new-york

William H. Johnson

Studio Museum in Harlem/Whitney Museum of American Art

Forming a well-thought-out retrospective that included works ranging from 1923 to 1946, these joint exhibitions, organized by the National Museum of American Art, provided the first serious consideration of the African-American painter William Henry Johnson (1901–70) in over 20 years. As art historian Richard J. Powell notes in the accompanying catalogue, Johnson’s relative obscurity is due to a number of factors: his expatriate status in the ’30s, his category-defying eclecticism, and, of course, the pervasive racism that informs the Modernist canon.

The Studio Museum presented an in-depth look at Johnson’s early career, from his precocious student years at New York’s National Academy of Design, through his bold experimentation with European Modernism. The shimmering building in Vieille Maison at Porte, ca.1927, reflects the artist’s early foray into Impressionism, but not until the wildly

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