New York City highlights black artists at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). The feature of “Just Above Midtown” at MOMA and “Lifted” at ABT celebrate black voices and share their resilience with all.
New York City features various cultures, and with diversity comes representation. It is especially vital that different cultures are represented properly, specifically through art, because art has the power to educate and inspire.
The Museum of Modern Art, in particular, debuted the feature of “Just Above Midtown” on October 9. “Just Above Midtown” was originally a separate gallery opened in 1974 by Linda Goode Bryant and acted as a safe space for Black artists. White artists’ influx of power over gallery space at the time inspired the creation of this gallery.
According to Art News, “In New York during the 70s, the city’s rich gallery scene was dominated by a handful of galleries…almost all of these solo exhibitions at these spaces were devoted to white artists.” Bryant worked tirelessly to claim a space for Black artists at the time, as she stated in a 1994 interview: “Primarily it was about allowing African American artists to function on the same platform equal to their white counterparts,” she said. A single mother with little money, Goode Bryant was determined to amplify Black artists as well as the creativity and movement that their artworks highlight. Goode Bryant was initially hesitant, as mentioned in New York Times article, “A Utopian Space for Black Artists, Reimagined at Moma.” “I had no desire to embalm or freeze artists who were still alive and making work,” she states.
Thelma Golden, a partner of hers, finally convinced her after four years to open her own gallery after proposing the question: “Wouldn’t you rather tell the story yourself?” which then began the planning process to feature an exhibit based on Bryant’s previous gallery (JAM which closed in 1986). Although the gallery closed in 1986, its influence on black artistry remained present. An exhibit based on the gallery is now being premiered at MoMa and will feature lectures by artists and museum creators as well as performances and screenings, as mentioned on the MoMa website.
The world of dance is also featuring Black artistry. “Lifted” is a performance experience at the American Ballet Theater, which will premiere on October 27, breaking boundaries and captivating audiences through its all-black cast of dancers. This performance, created and choreographed by Christopher Rudd, will open its World Premiere at the 2022 Fall Gala honoring ABT Trustee Patricia R. Morton. Rudd states that he “is honored to be returning to ABT to create “Lifted,” which fulfills a long-held vision and ambition to bring together an all-Black cast and creative team to celebrate Black excellence within America's National Ballet Company.” This innovative performance not only directly pushes against the history of ballet, previously dominated by white dancers but also honors a story of Black artistry and creativity.
The implementation of black artistry throughout New York City proposes the question: why haven’t things always been like this? Hesitance to hang a painting in a gallery or allow a dancer on stage based on skin color seems bizarre now but was standard throughout the early twentieth century.
The first African American to be represented by a New York Gallery was Jacob Lawrence in 1941. Similarly, Anna Benna Sims was the first African American ballerina to join the ABT company long after the city's first galleries and ballet companies were established. Black artistry has not been acknowledged as artistry the way that white artistry has been; therefore, it is essential that Black artists themselves tell their stories and celebrate their artistry. In the words of Goode Bryant herself, “If we want change we have to create that. To me that is the ultimate art — the ability to use what we have to create what we need.” This is why it is vital to include Black artistry and to highlight and celebrate the visionaries that have influenced New York City’s vibrant and diverse culture.