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Alone in a Crowd: Prints of the 1930s and 1940s by African-American Artists

DATES February 25, 1996 through April 22, 1996
  • November 1, 1995 An exhibition of more than 100 rare prints by over 40 African-American artists, many of whom learned printmaking techniques at neighborhood art centers sponsored by the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP) will be on view at The Brooklyn Museum February 23 through April 21, 1996. The works in Alone in a Crowd: Prints by African-American Artists of the 1930s-40s from the Collection of Reba and Dave Williams were selected from the Williams’s collection of more than 4,000 American prints by over 1,000 artists, of which 4 percent are African-Americans.

    This traveling exhibition, now midway through its tour, was adapted from a bifurcated exhibition of the same name, portions of which were presented at The Newark Museum and at the Equitable Gallery. This is the first time the works have been united in a New York venue. Immediately following its presentation at The Brooklyn Museum, Alone in a Crowd will travel to The Art Institute of Chicago.

    Among the artists included are Charles Alston, John Biggers, Robert Blackburn, Margaret Burroughs, Elizabeth Catlett, Ernest Crichlow, Aaron Douglas, Wilmer Jennings, William H. Johnson, Lawrence Jones, Ronald Joseph, Norman Lewis, William E. Smith, Raymond Steth, Dox Thrash, James Lese[s]ne Wells, Charles White, John Wilson, and Hale Woodruff.

    Many of their prints explore themes introduced in the 1920s during the Harlem Renaissance, including the effects of political and social injustice, African-American history and cultural identity, celebrations of African-American musical heritage, as well as the aspirations of a people seeking dignity and self-definition. The diverse prints in the exhibition range from images of rural backwaters and crowded cities to depictions of war and religion.

    Utilizing the full range of traditional graphic techniques, the artists experimented with new methods, including Carborundum etching created by Dox Thrash. An equally rich variety of stylistic approaches was employed, among them documentary social realism, modernist abstraction, and surrealism.

    Almost one-third of the works in the exhibition were created under the auspices of the WPA. They are rare because African[-]Americans were under-represented in this New Deal program and many of the prints created through the WPA art program were undocumented and lost. Community art centers, a part of the WPA, sprung up throughout the country, affording African-American and white artists an unusual opportunity to work side by side and often providing both with their first exposure to printmaking, as well as the chance to exhibit their work.

    The exhibition is organized by The Newark Museum and circulated by the American Federation of Arts. It is a project of ART ACCESS, a program of the AFA with major support from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund. The exhibition program of the AFA is supported in part by the J. Carter Brown Fund for Exhibitions, established by the AFA in 1992.

    At The Brooklyn Museum the exhibition has been coordinated by Marilyn Kushner, curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photography. The exhibition is made possible at The Brooklyn Museum by a generous grant from The Chase Manhattan Bank. Additional support has been provided by Brooklyn Union.

    A softcover illustrated catalogue ($15.00) with an introduction by Lowery S. Sims, associate curator of twentieth-century art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accompanies the exhibition. It includes an essay on the period by Leslie King-Hammond, dean of graduate studies, Maryland Institute, College of Art, essays on the rarity of African-American prints and the themes they present by collectors and print scholars Reba and Dave Williams, and biographical information on each artist.

    Following is the itinerary for the balance of the tour:

    The Brooklyn Museum    February 23-April 21[,] 1996
    The Art Institute of Chicago    May 17-July 14, 1996
    Dallas Museum of Art    August 9-October 6, 1996
    The St. Louis Art Museum    November 5, 1996-January 5, 1997
    The High Museum of Art    February 2-March 23, 1997
    The Cleveland Museum of Art    April 22-June 22, 1997

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1995 - 2003. 07-12/1996, 054-56.
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