Thursday, March 5, 2009

Historical Exhibition

It is exciting to run across and physically hold one of those rare exhibition catalogues documenting a time period when there were fewer opportunities for the black artist to exhibit and certainly to exhibit in a black owned gallery. Such is the case with the first annual exhibition from June 8 - 22, 1939 at the Salon of Contemporary Negro Art sponsored by the Augusta Savage Studios, Inc. The gallery was located at 143 West 125th Street, New York, New York.

By today's standard, the small catalogue is a single sheet folded into 4 pages and would probably be referred to simply as a brochure. Yet historically, it is an invaluable art history document that allows us to put the gallery and the actual exhibition into an historical perspective. Augusta Savage, George W. Lattimore, and Kenneth W. Smith are listed as directors. Listed on the two inside pages of the catalogue are the titles and artists of the 54 pieces included in the exhibit. A list of 30 artists which represent a virtual 20th century who's who of black artists includes such artists as Meta Warrick Fuller, Richmond Barthe, Robert Pious, Rex Gorleigh, Morgan Smith, Gwendolyn Knight, Norman Lewis, Ellis Wilson, Beauford Delaney, Georgette Seabrooke, Marvin Smith, William Farrow, Francisco P. Lord, Lois Mailou Jones, Selma Burke, Ernest Crichlow, James Lesesne Wells, and Augusta Savage.

According to the Chicago Defender (National edition), June 10, 1939, the headline on page 13 reads: "Artists Get New Inspiration --From Augusta Savage-- Who Opens Gallery To Sell-- Their Work To The Public." As stated in the article, "The first art gallery in America devoted to the exhibition and sale of the works of artists of the Race will be opened at 143 West 125th Street, New York City on June 8.... This new owned and operated by Race members and will open formally with an exhibition of the works of outstanding artists of today." Augusta Savage was president of the corporation (Augusta Savage Studios, Inc,) which sponsored the Salon of Contemporary Art; George W. Lattimore was vice-president; and Kenneth W. Smith was secretary-treasurer.

In announcing the opening of the new gallery, Augusta Savage said, "I have long felt that Negro artists, in the course of our development, have reached the point where they should have a gallery of their own--one devoted to the exhibition and sale of Negro art. The Salon of Contemporary Negro Art will attempt to fill that need. We have made every effort to make this one of the finest galleries in the country." (Artists Get New Inspiration From Augusta Savage Who Opens Gallery To Sell Their Work To The Public (1939, June 10). The Chicago Defender (National edition), p. 13.)

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