Two signature art works by Charles White from the Howard University Gallery of Art’s permanent collection, “Five Great American Negroes” and “Native Son #2,” are headed to The Museum of Modern Art for an exclusive exhibition.
“Charles White: A Retrospective” is the first major exhibition in more than 30 years to highlight the life and creative works of White (1918-1979), an artist, activist and educator.
Presented to mark the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth, the exhibition will feature more than 100 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, illustrated books and record covers created by White during his 40-year career.
“The Howard University Gallery of Art is honored to loan two significant Charles White works from our collection to the Museum of Modern Art,” said Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick. “Mr. White left an indelible mark on Howard University, having served as an artist in residence in 1945 and as a distinguished professor in 1978. The two pieces which will be on display … demonstrate his ability to capture the mood of a generation. To gather more than 100 pieces of White’s work together will truly be an unforgettable moment.”
The exhibition is co-organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and MoMA. It opens to the public at MoMA, in midtown Manhattan on Oct. 7.
“Five Great American Negroes,” White’s first public mural, was completed in 1940 when he worked for the Federal Art Project in Chicago. Featuring five of the most prominent African-American leaders of the time — Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and Marian Anderson — it is both a commentary on African-American history and accomplishments in the arts and sciences.
The Howard University Gallery of Art received the work in 1947 as part of a federal transfer of art works from the FAP and Works Progress Administration.
The subject of White’s 1942 ink drawing, “Native Son #2,” was derived from author Richard Wright’s 1940 fiction novel “Native Son.” White captures the book’s protagonist, Bigger Thomas, with the torn shirt and the figure’s bulging muscles signifying Thomas’ physical strength, his battle against society and the forces that attempt to restrain him. White’s image aligns Wright’s view of the character as symbolic of American life and a casualty of a dislocated society.
“Charles White’s influence on American and African American art is without comparison,” said Gwendolyn H. Everett, director of the Howard University Gallery of Art and associate dean for the Division of Fine Arts. “At a time when most images of African Americans in popular media were stereotypical and derogative, White felt compelled to make art that affirmed human dignity. He used his art as a weapon to fight against social and economic injustice.”