James Van Der Zee, Billiard Room, n.d., black-and-white photograph, 11 x 14". From “The Challenge of the Modern.”

New York

The Challenge of the Modern: African-American Artists 1925–1945

The Studio Museum in Harlem
429 West 127th St
January 23–March 30, 2003

Despite the rich traditions of African-American art, its best-known rubric probably remains the Harlem Renaissance of the ’20s and ’30s. “The Challenge of the Modern” should broaden our view of those years. “I wanted to look at African Americans’ contribution to the vanguard,” says museum director Lowery Sims, who leads the show’s five-curator team. The continuities with African and folk art, the migration to northern cities, the spiritual resonances with both the black church and the modernist, AbEx strain of religiosity—“The show is ambitious,” says Sims. “I hope people argue with it; but if they think about what African Americans are doing a little more, that in itself will be exciting.”