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Common Ground: African American Art from the Flint Institute of Arts, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, & the Muskegon Museum of Art

February 8, 2015 - April 26, 2015


The Flint Institute of Arts is presenting Common Ground: African American Art from the Flint Institute of Arts, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, & the Muskegon Museum of Art from February 8, 2015 through April 26, 2015. (right: Karsten Creightney, American, b. 1976. Crossroads, 2010; collage, watercolor, acrylic, oil and wax on wood panel, 48 x 72 inches. Collection of the Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, Michigan, Museum purchase, FIA 2011.328)

Common Ground highlights some of the most important African American artists from the 19th century to present day through the collections of three Michigan museums. This exhibition surveys the history of African American art through 67 works of art in various mediums, including painting, sculpture, and works on paper.

This exhibition is divided into five thematic areas that give a broad overview of the history of African American art, showing its diversity as well as its commonality. Section one, Gaining Access, spans from the 19th to the early 20th century, with artists such as Joshua Johnson and Henry Ossawa Tanner. Poverty and prevailing institutional racism in the late 19th century made it extremely difficult for African Americans to pursue creative professions such as painters or sculptors. A few decades later, African Americans gradually gained formal access to the world of fine arts through acceptance into prestigious schools, where they studied with renowned American artists.

In section two, New Self-Awareness, which focuses on the early 20th century, many African American artists began to form their own artistic identity. During the period of the Harlem Renaissance, African American artists began to portray their people, demonstrating the awakening of a black consciousness. These artists, such as Jacob Lawrence, Benny Andrews, and Hughie Lee-Smith, created new and modern images of African Americans through depictions of their daily lives, which educated people about their history and experiences.

In the third and fourth sections of the exhibition, titled Political and Social Expressions and Examining Identities, respectively, the art on view deals with overcoming injustices and gaining equality in the late 20th and into the 21st century. Responding to the struggle for Civil Rights, African American artists created works that expressed political and social concerns, including racism, poverty, segregation, and social injustice. Artists such as Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, and Vincent Smith, are included in this section.

Section five, Towards Abstraction/Abstraction, highlights African American artists, such as Chakaia Booker, Willie Cole, and Richard Hunt, who explore abstraction as artistic expression. The first five sections are thematic, while the last section of the exhibition is based on the medium of paper, with drawings, prints, photographs, and mixed-media.

The coming together of these three Michigan collections allows visitors to see works in a new context. This exhibition encourages engagement with art and fosters a sense of community in diverse areas of the state of Michigan.

To view the checklist for the exhibition please click here.


(above: Matthew Wead, American, b. 1984. Amadou Diallo, 2009; woodcut on paper, 36 x 24 inches. Collection of the Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, Michigan, Museum purchase, FIA 2009.89.)


(above: Artist James Marcellus Watkins next to his work Victims, ca. 1986: James Marcellus Watkins, American, b. 1955. Victims, ca. 1986; oil on board, 30 x 35 1/4 inches. Collection of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Director's Choice Purchase Award, 1991 Kalamazoo Area Artist Show , KIA 1990/1.90. Photo courtesy of the Flint Institute of Arts)


Additional venues

Common Ground: African American Art from the Flint Institute of Arts, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, & the Muskegon Museum of Art will tour to two additional venues: Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (August 15, 2015-November 15, 2015) and Muskegon Museum of Art (December 10, 2015-March 16, 2016)


Resource Library editor's notes:

For a definition of checklist, please see Definitions in Museums Explained.

Readers may also enjoy these additional articles and essays:

For biographical information on artists referenced in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists

Read more information, articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Flint Institute of Arts in Resource Library.

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