30 Americans Surveys African-American Artists Over Three Decades

  • NORFOLK, Virginia
  • /
  • March 01, 2012

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Kehinde Wiley, Equestrian Portrait of the Count Duke Olivares, 2005. Oil on canvas, 108 x 108 in. (274.3 x 274.3 cm) Rubell Family Collection, Miami .

The Chrysler Museum presents 30 Americans, an exhibition of contemporary African-American art of the past three decades. From Robert Colescott and Jean-Michel Basquiat to Kehinde Wiley and Iona Rozeal Brown, works by some of the most important African-American artists of our time will take over the Chrysler Museum this spring. The provocative—and at times controversial—exhibition goes on view March 16 to July 15, 2012. Admission is free. 

Drawn from the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, 30 Americans brings together 75 works by 31 emerging and established artists who work within a variety of mediums including painting, sculpture, photography, video, and installation. While some works probe the notion of racial and social difference in a candid manner, others evoke universal concepts and emotions using a sophisticated blend of visual beauty, humor, and irony.

The Chrysler puts a new perspective on this critically acclaimed exhibition with a dramatic, interwoven installation that focuses on six intriguing themes—Street Aesthetics, Aspects of the Body, Performing Identity, Material Messages, Art and Language, and Toward a Post-Black Art—and incorporates work from our own outstanding collection. A selection of paintings and sculptures from 30 Americans will be strategically situated within our European and American galleries of works dating from the Renaissance to the 19th century. And the Museum’s presentation features an entire room dedicated to the bright, satirical paintings of Robert Colescott, whose work was an enormous influence on the generations that followed. The Museum pairs three of the Rubells’ paintings with the Chrysler’s two monumental works by the artist in order to capture the full breadth of Colescott’s vibrant, edgy work. The result is a unique layout that draws connections between artists and works within the exhibition itself and across centuries of artistic practice.

As our installation will demonstrate, 30 Americans brings together artists from different generations in unique and thought-provoking ways.  Robert Colescott and Barkley Hendricks, for example, grew up during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and ’70s, and paved the way for David Hammons, Mickalene Thomas, and Jeff Sonhouse. Hendricks’ powerful portrayals of African-American subjects merge the long-standing tradition of portraiture with a striking sense of urban realism. The dignity of his subjects carries over into Thomas’ glitzy and alluring portraits that speak to women’s roles in today’s world. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1981 graffiti-inspired portrait, Bird on Money, pays homage to the great jazz musician Charlie “Bird” Parker. Mark Bradford continues Basquiat’s street-culture aesthetic in his large-scale collages, in which bits of advertisements, scraps of billboards, and perm foils from his mother’s beauty parlor come together in a new way that evokes maps of the urban landscape.

Several of the artists rework and manipulate history in interesting and thought-provoking ways. In his photographs, 34-year-old Rashid Johnson mines the past in search of his own self-identity, portraying himself as abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Kara Walker also looks to the antebellum period in her large-scale wall installation that blends historical fact and fantasy. Walker relies on Victorian silhouettes to comment on slavery, race relations and power structures.

30 Americans is an exciting exhibition that brings world-class, cutting-edge art to the Hampton Roads community,” says Amy Brandt, Ph.D., the Chrysler’s McKinnon Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “These are some of the most important artists of our time, and with this show we hope to reach out to broader and more diverse audiences, to engage them with art in ways they haven’t considered before. We see the potential to touch the lives of many people and to create interesting dialogues and discussions that will be remembered for years to come.” 

Since its inception in 1961, the Rubell Family Collection has included African-American art. As the show evolved, the Rubells decided to call the exhibition “30 Americans rather than African-Americans or Black Americans because nationality is a statement of fact, while racial identity is a question each artist answers in his or her own way, or not at all. And the number 30 because we acknowledge, even as it is happening, that this show does not include everyone who could be in it. The truth is, because we do collect right up to the last minute before a show, there are actually 31 artists in 30 Americans.”

Because the exhibition is one of the largest the Museum ever has hosted—filling gallery spaces upstairs and downstairs throughout the building—the Chrysler’s Members invite the community to celebrate the exhibition with them at a free preview on the evening of March 15. Party details, as well as programming related to 30 Americans, are available at chrysler.org.




Nina Chanel Abney
John Bankston
Jean-Michel Basquiat
Mark Bradford
Iona Rozeal Brown
Nick Cave
Robert Colescott
Noah Davis
Leonardo Drew
Renée Green
David Hammons

Barkley L. Hendricks
Rashid Johnson
Glenn Ligon
Kalup Linzy
Kerry James Marshall
Rodney McMillian
Wangechi Mutu
William Pope.L
Gary Simmons
Xaviera Simmons

Lorna Simpson
Shinique Smith
Jeff Sonhouse
Henry Taylor
Hank Willis Thomas
Mickalene Thomas
Kara Walker
Carrie Mae Weems
Kehinde Wiley
Purvis Young

The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums with a world-class collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America, and a new Glass Studio. The Museum is located at 245 West Olney Road in Norfolk and is open Wednesdays, 10 a.m. -9 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sundays, noon-5 p.m. The Chrysler and the Glass Studio are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, as well as major holidays. Admission to the Museum’s collection and Studio glassblowing demonstrations are free. For exhibitions, programming and special events, visit chrysler.org or call 757-664-6200. 

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