Historic ’30 Americans’ exhibition continuing tour at New Britain Museum of American Art

The New Britain Museum of American Art presents 30 Americans from June 16 through October 30, 2022. Drawn from the acclaimed Rubell Museum in Miami, Florida30 Americans showcases works by some of the most significant artists of the last four decades, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, Hank Willis Thomas, and Kehinde Wiley.

This groundbreaking exhibition, 15 years on the road touring America. tells the story of Black humanity through the gaze of contemporary Black artists. Dating from the 1970s to the 2000s, the extensive group of paintings, drawings, collages, photography, portraiture, sculptures, installations, and performance artwork addresses over 200 years of American history and considers the powerful influence of artistic legacy and community across generations. The exhibition invites us to confront the complexities of individual and collective self-making; explore the transformative paths of self-determination and self-healing; reclaim dignity and liberation of the Black body and Black sexuality; and reframe the past, present, and future of African-descended people through wonder and imagination.

Curated by scholars Dr. Dann J. Broyld, Nicole Stanton, and Brittney Yancy, the exhibition is a catalyst for community and conversation, and engages active collaboration with Museum staff and a 30 Americans Community Advisory Group comprised of local community members.

Among other contemporary art luminaries with works in the show are Mark Bradford, Nick Cave, Robert Colescott, Leonardo Drew, Rashid Johnson, Kerry James Marshall, Wangechi Mutu and Carrie Mae Weems.

30 Americans at the NBMAA:

What does freedom mean? What does it mean to be Black + American? What is Blackness? are questions these 30 African American artists answer through reality, truth, imagination, and wonder. These questions are further explored by guest curators Dr. Dann J. Broyld, Nicole Stanton, and Brittney Yancy, and are interpreted through a series of unifying themes:

“Black Wonderment and Freedom Dreams: Adornment, Identity & Freedom”

The practice of wonderment and imagination is embedded in the African diasporic experience. The ancestral spirit of faith, resilience, and imagination is rooted in the African tradition and spans generations across the diaspora. African Americans continue to be spiritual visionaries and freedom dreamers who understand the complex condition, past and present, of African-descended people, while simultaneously imagining a world shaped by liberation, empowerment, and full personhood.

Black wonderment relies on a universal worldview that allows for self-definition, and 30 Americans elevates the tradition of adornment and materiality in the self-making process. Works including Nick Cave’s Soundsuit, Lorna Simpson’s Wig, Mickalene Thomas’s Whatever You Want, and David Hammond’s The Holy Bible, Old Testament, conjure a world where the tradition of fashion and adornment are central to African Americans’ pursuit of self-definition and freedom making.

“Signs and Wonders”

“Signs and Wonders” is a colloquialism or turn-of-phrase used in the African-American community to describe both spiritual and space-like acts that occur with enchantment. They captivate and awe us into amazement, enlightenment, and illumination. Make us look to the Gods, constellations, and spiritual realm for explanations. They dazzle us with delight and leave us dazed in stardust. They are acts of soul, culture, futurism, and art. They open us to the possibilities and coloration of liberation, self-determination, and the wide-world of signals, mirrors, and miracles. 

Mark Bradford, Jean-Michele Basquiat, and Glenn Ligon are just a few of the artists whose abstract compositions conjure these ideas.

“Making a Way Out of No Way: Radical Black Self-Making in Contemporary Art”

“Making a way out of no way” is a phrase that emerges out of Black communities to express the challenges of surviving and thriving, in the face of economic, aesthetic, cultural, social, and political oppressions experienced in the US. Black artists and scholars grapple with the question of: “how do we self-identify and move towards liberation and a state of wonder in the face of pervasive anti-black racism.” 

The works of Kehinde Wiley, Rashid Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, and Mickalene Thomas, in particular, explore these concerns.

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, One Million Yen, 1982. Oil on canvas with wood and jute. 60 x 58 x 3 3/4 in. (152.4 x 147.3 x 9.5 cm). Image courtesy of the Rubell Museum and New Britain Museum of American Art.
JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, One Million Yen, 1982. Oil on canvas with wood and jute. 60 x 58 x 3 3/4 in. (152.4 x 147.3 x 9.5 cm). Image courtesy of the Rubell Museum and New Britain Museum of American Art.

About the Curators

Dann J. Broyld is an associate professor of African American History at UMass Lowell. He earned his Ph.D. in nineteenth-century United States and African Diaspora history at Howard University. His work focuses on the American–Canadian borderlands and issues of Black identity, migration, and transnational relations as well as oral history, material culture, and museum-community interaction.

Nicole Stanton is a dance artist, educator, and leadership professional. She is currently Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Wesleyan University, as well as a faculty member in the Department of Dance, Department of African American Studies, and the College of the Environment. Through choreography and performance, she explores the intersections between personal, political, and physical experiences with an eye towards celebrating the complexities of Black cultures and creating platforms that cultivate community. Nicole received her MFA from Ohio State University and her BA from Antioch College.

Brittney Yancy is an Assistant Professor of Humanities at Goodwin University, where she has been a faculty member since 2015. She is the Goodwin University’s Content Coordinator for History. Brittney is completing her Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut and completed her undergraduate studies at Hampton University. Her research focuses on 20th Century US social movements, urban radicalism, critical race theory, women’s activism, and Black women’s political and intellectual history.

About the New Britain Museum of American Art

The New Britain Museum of American Art is the first institution dedicated solely to acquiring American art. Spanning four centuries of American history, the Museum’s permanent collection is renowned for its strengths in colonial portraiture, the Hudson River School, American Impressionism, the Ash Can School, as well as the important mural series The Arts of Life in America by Thomas Hart Benton.

The singular focus on American art and its panoramic view of American artistic achievement, realized through the Museum’s extensive permanent collection, exhibitions, and educational programming, make the New Britain Museum of American Art a significant resource for a broad and diverse public.

About the Rubell Museum

The Rubell collection was established in 1965 by Don and Mera Rubell. The Rubells’ passion for art and their attention to collecting works from a diverse group of artists resulted in one of the largest privately-owned contemporary art collections. The collection became accessible to the public in 1993, when the Rubell Family Collection/Contemporary Art Foundation was opened in Miami, Florida.

In 2019, the Rubell Family Collection expanded to a larger building and was renamed the Rubell Museum to emphasize its mission to share the extensive collection of contemporary art with the public. The collection is always expanding, and features works by many important contemporary artists, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cecily Brown, Keith Haring, Rashid Johnson, Hayv Kahraman, Jeff Koons, William Kentridge, Yoshitomo Nara, Cindy Sherman, and Mickalene Thomas.

The vast range and depth of the collection has allowed the Rubell Museum to create 48 special exhibitions, including 30 Americans, drawn entirely from works in its collection.

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