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Represent: 200 Years of African American Art

January 10–April 5, 2015

Explore the creative achievements of African American artists and examine the expression of personal and collective identities in a nation marked by a history of racial inequality. Represent: 200 Years of African American Art highlights selections from the Museum's exceptional holdings of African American art and celebrates the publication of a catalogue examining the breadth of these noteworthy collections. With work by renowned artists such as Henry Ossawa Tanner, Horace Pippin, Jacob Lawrence, and Carrie Mae Weems, the exhibition showcases a range of subjects, styles, mediums, and traditions. Since the museum's acquisition of Tanner's painting The Annunciation in 1899, its collections of African American art have grown significantly, especially during the last three decades.

From compelling stories to innovative methods, Represent explores the evolving ways in which African American artists have expressed personal, political, and racial identity. It begins with rare examples of fine and decorative arts made in the 1800s by free and enslaved individuals such as a large storage jar by the accomplished potter David Drake. As access to artistic training and opportunities increased, the relationship between creative expression and identity grew more complex and nuanced. In the early twentieth century, artists like William Henry Johnson and Elizabeth Catlett embraced modernism by representing personal experiences or scenes of daily life in vibrant colors and dynamic compositions.

In the exhibition, abstract paintings and sculpture from the 1960s through the 1980s by Barbara Chase-Riboud, Martin Puryear, and others show a desire to balance cultural and artistic identities, challenging the idea that work by African Americans should be viewed in primarily racial terms. By contrast, many artists working in the 1990s and since, Glenn Ligon and Lorna Simpson among them, have used pictures and text to examine the past and make pointed statements about race. Represent culminates with a wide-ranging array of portraits created by several generations of artists, from those active over a century ago to those making work today, as well as audio excerpts of interviews with contemporary artists Moe Brooker, Barkley L. Hendricks, Odili Donald Odita, Joyce J. Scott, and others.

Exhibition Trailer

Main Building


The exhibition is generously supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Center for American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Kathleen C. and John J. F. Sherrerd Fund for Exhibitions, PECO, Lomax Family Foundation, and Constance and Sankey Williams. The publication is supported by the Center for American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Dr. Constance E. Clayton, Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest, Marion Stroud Swingle, and other generous individuals. The educational resources for students and teachers are supported by Iroko Pharmaceuticals, LLC.


Consulting curator Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Associate Professor of American Art, University of Pennsylvania
Organizing curator John Vick, Project Assistant Curator, Philadelphia Museum of Art

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