1939: Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA


In 1939, the BMA presented one of the first major exhibitions in the U.S. to feature African American artists. Contemporary Negro Art, served “as a declaration of principles as to what art should be in a democracy and as a gauge of how far in this particular province we have gone and may need to go…,” wrote renowned African American philosopher and art critic Alain Locke in the exhibition brochure. Nearly 80 years later, the BMA pays tribute to this landmark exhibition with 14 prints and drawings by African American artists who were included in the 1939 show.

Highlights include the first work by a Black artist to enter the Museum’s collection, Dox Thrash’s watercolor Griffin Hills, as well as works by Jacob Lawrence, James Lesesne Wells, and Hale Woodruff. The exhibition also draws attention to behind-the-scenes figures who worked on the project through archival materials shown publicly for the first time.

This exhibition is curated by Prints, Drawings and Photographs Curatorial Assistant Morgan Dowty.

1939: Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA and related programs are made possible by the PNC Foundation.