This compelling portrait of a Baltimore toddler picking berries from a surreally-scaled goblet is an icon of the American vernacular painting. Joshua Johnson, who was self taught, is the earliest known African American painter to make his living from his art. Emma Van Name (1805) is his most ambitious and engaging portrait of an individual child. Revealing the hallmarks of Johnson’s characteristic style in its naturalistic precision and imaginative flair, the painting is distinguished by a bravura demonstration of his talents in its nuanced palette, compositional complexity, and deft handling of details, especially in the child’s dress and demeanor.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Jacob Lawrence (1917 – 2000) once wrote, “For me, the most important function of art is observation.” He was inspired by and created works based on his own experiences of everyday life in Harlem and the history of African Americans the United States. In The Wedding (1948), Lawrence simultaneously depicted the solemnity and the joy of the marriage ceremony. Although the preacher’s face is only partially defined, he appears to look down with great seriousness at the couple as they contemplate their vows. The large, colorful urns overflowing with brilliant flowers signify the prosperity of this union
What’s most interesting about this Hot Pink bust of a lovely African American lady, is that it’s not in use as your standard display mannequin, despite the fact that it is clearly in the middle of a clothing section of a department store. In this instance, it is really more like a sculpture; more like a work of art meant to enhance the consumer’s shopping experience, I think. In my case, it was highly effective.
Photographed at Saks Fifth Avenue, The Gardens on El Paseo, Palm Desert, California.
Fred Wilson’s Guarded View (1991) aggressively confronts viewers with four black, headless mannequins dressed as museum guards. Each figure wears a uniform, dating to the early 1990s, from one of four New York cultural institutions: the Jewish Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art.
Despite this specificity, the faceless mannequins underscore the anonymity expected of security personnel, who are tasked with protecting art and the public while remaining inconspicuous. It also addresses the racial dynamics of the museum space, in which the guards may be the only people of color present.
This work originally appeared in the Whitney’s then-controversial 1994 exhibition, Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art, which would prove to be a defining moment for the burgeoning movement of identity politics.