Only in New York. Where else could you visit a museum whose mission is to support artists of African descent, and be hosted by Aya, a half-Japanese, half-Hispanic guide?
This contemporary art museum, located at 144 West 125th Street, is as exciting and eclectic as America itself. Founded in 1968, it was the first museum of its kind in this country.
The Museum’s Artists-in-Residence program has supported over one hundred graduates who have gone on to impressive careers. When an artist is chosen, he or she is given an intensive, annual studio residency and a public show twice a year.
The first artwork we saw was embedded in the floor: seven time capsules by seven different artists. “Nobody knows whether the capsules contain artwork or writing,” Aya explained, “but in 2034 the capsules will be opened.”
Next was an exhibit by Lorraine O’Grady, an activist photographer born in 1934. Her show, called ART IS…was in retaliation to a critic who claimed “Black artists can’t create contemporary artwork.”
O’Grady’s very contemporary and exuberant photographs of the 1984 African-American Day Parade celebrate Harlem and being African-American. She hired 15 models dressed in white, each holding a picture frame around their heads. The entire community – even the police – seem to love “hamming it up” for the camera. We also learned O’Grady had once been a CIA agent!
On to Marc Andrew Robinson’s TWICE TOLD exhibit: a swirling sculpture made entirely of the back legs of chairs. The piece fills a room and looks as if it’s about to take off. Robinson uses parts of furniture because they represent lives lived – thus the title, TWICE TOLD.
At the main gallery we saw an achingly tender mahogany sculpture of a mother and child by Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) an African-American sculptor, the granddaughter of freed slaves.
We left feeling we’d been treated to a veritable feast: for the eyes, the brain and the heart. If you’d like to visit the museum, call 212-864-4500 x258 or email [email protected]