Press Release

Harlem: In Situ Explores Art Inspired and Shaped by a Neighborhood That Has Been a Locus of Black Visual Culture for More Than a Century

Event Date: 
30 March 2019
Andover, MA
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Including New Works and Evolving Projects by Jordan Casteel and Sherrill Roland

Harlem: In Situ examines nearly 100 years of art created in Harlem, exploring the neighborhood’s enduring influence on American culture from the Great Migration and Harlem Renaissance to the present day, capturing periods of community growth, ownership, pride, and new styles, as well as redevelopment and encroaching gentrification. On view March 30–July 31, 2019 at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Harlem: In Situ brings into dialogue works from 20th century masters including Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Aaron Douglas, William H. Johnson, and Jacob Lawrence with groundbreaking artists Dawoud Bey, Jordan Casteel, Lorraine O’Grady, and Sherrill Roland in an effort to understand the myriad creative processes born of sustained engagement with this distinctive place. 

“One of the great centers of cultural production in the United States, Harlem’s incredible past and present make this neighborhood a wonderful subject for the Addison’s ongoing engagement with the theme of place,” said Judith F. Dolkart, The Mary Stripp & R. Crosby Kemper Director of the Addison Gallery of American Art. “Through an examination of the work inspired by Harlem for over a century, this show aims to provide new insights on Harlem as an iconic American place and to shed new light on the role of place in defining the trajectory of American art.”

“One cannot fully appreciate the history of American art without understanding the vast influence of Harlem on artists of all races who have found themselves in New York during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries,” said Stephanie Sparling Williams, Assistant Curator at the Addison Gallery of American Art. “The title of the exhibition in situ refers to an object in its original context, and this exhibition extends this anthropological modus operandi to artists, for whom working in situ is equally critical to the interpretation of a given place, subject, or culture.” 

Harlem: In Situ brings together works from the Addison’s expansive holdings, ongoing and new works by contemporary artists, and significant loans to reveal the common threads that have made Harlem a touchstone for artists over generations. Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • A never-before-exhibited painting from the Subway Series of large-scale portraits by Denver-born, Harlem-based artist Jordan Casteel (b. 1989). 
  • A performance of Sherrill Roland’s ongoing Jumpsuit Project, in which the artist dons an orange prison jumpsuit to catalyze discussions around mass incarceration, as well as objects related to his earlier performance of the work at the Studio Museum in Harlem. 
  • Two bodies of photography created 40 years apart by former Addison Edward E. Elson Artist in Residence Dawoud Bey–Harlem, USA, a chronicle of the vibrant neighborhood captured between 1975–79, and Harlem Redux, a series created in 2015 to document the effects of rapid gentrification on Harlem’s physical landscape and sense of community. 
  • A monumental painting by Kehinde Wiley that borrows from the vocabulary of Old Master portraiture to depict contemporary subjects the artist cast from the streets in Harlem, provoking questions around race, class, and power in art and history-making. 
  • Major prints by pioneering mid-century artists including Romare Bearden, fusing avant-garde abstraction with socially-conscious subject matter, and Elizabeth Catlett, expressing her point of view as a Black woman working artist using multiple visual languages drawn from African and Mexican art traditions. 
  • A 1948 painting by Jacob Lawrence in his signature style, employing flattened and abstracted treatment of realistic subject matter to depict themes of contemporary African American life and community. 
  • Decades of photographs examining the changing landscape of Harlem through time including 1920s–1950s (Harlem) by Lucien Aigner, Harlem Document (1935) by Aaron Siskind, Harlem Heroes (1930–1960) by Carl van Vechten, and The Sweet Flypaper of Life (1984) by Roy DeCarava. 

Harlem: In Situ grows out of the Addison’s ongoing pursuit of the question What is America?, an investigation of the interconnected aesthetic, political, racial, social, scientific, economic, and technological histories of the United States. Also at the Addison this spring will be John Goodman: not recent color on view April 13–July 31, 2019, an exhibition examining 1970s South Boston, another distinct American neighborhood with a complicated social, economic, racial, and cultural history, through recently rediscovered, never-before-exhibited photographs by Boston native John Goodman.

Generous support for Harlem: In Situ has been provided by the Arthur and Vivian Schulte Exhibitions Fund, the Abbot Academy Fund, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring, and the John H. Hosch III Memorial Fund.

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Lorraine O'Grady, Art Is...(Cop Framed),1983/2009. Image courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York.

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