One area of art that is gaining traction, really taking off in the last five years, is African-American art. This self-portrait by Frederick C. Flemister (1917-1976), is one of many examples by black artists highlighted by a Forbes feature on the genre. Born in Atlanta, Flemister trained at Morehouse College, at Atlanta University under Hale Woodruff and later at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis where he won a scholarship. Though little known by the mainstream art world, in 1940, Flemister took first prize for oil painting at the American Negro Exposition in Chicago, Ill.
Major collectors of this genre include Bill and Camille Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Henry Bellafonte, Grant Hill, Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Parsons and Kenneth Chenault, but white collectors have discovered this market. Now white collectors and institutions are discovering these long overlooked works. Swann Auction Galleries in NY created a department of African-American art -- the first auction house to do so.
Stars: Jean-Michel Basquiat (2007 auction record of $14.6 million) and Kara Walker, 39. Walker had an exhibition that I missed at the Guggenheim over Thanksgiving '07 and most recently was at the Fort Worth Modern (I caught it there this fall and yes, much of it is disturbing), and commands prices over $400,000.
When I lived in NYC I never knew about The Studio Museum in Harlem (1,600 works by artists of African descent) and am sorry I didn't get there. The current exhibition there is of works by Barkley L. Hendricks called Birth of the Cool. He is best known for his life-size portraits of people of color living in urban areas in the 1960s and 70s. At right is Hendrick's Sweet Thang (Lynn Jenkins), 1975. Birth of Cool was organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University and when it leaves the Studio Museum it will travel to the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.
When I lived in Atlanta I didn't get to Clark's University Art Galleries, one of the places to go to see art by African-Americans (other places with good collections include: the Smithsonian with (most by William H. Johnson with 1,000 pieces); DuSable Museum of African-American History in Chicago; Fisk University Galleries, Nashville; Hampton University Museum -- a historically black college; and Howard University Gallery, WDC.
I'm glad to see this art and these artists receive attention. Some institutions, like Fisk, are struggling to hang on to their collections.
painting credits above, left: "Self-Portrait," in the Barnett Aden Collection, WDC; right, Hendrick's Sweet Thang