Riffs and Relations

And She was Born by Janet Taylor Pickett
30″x30″; acrylic on canvas with collage; 2017
Courtesy of the artist.


Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition

at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., USA
29 February-24 May 2020

This exhibition presents works by African American artists of the 20th and 21st centuries together with examples by the early 20th century European artists with whom they engaged. It explores the connections and frictions around modernism in the work of artists such as Romare Bearden, Robert Colescott, Renee Cox, Wassily Kandinsky, Norman Lewis, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Faith Ringgold, Hank Willis Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems, among others. European modernist art has been an important, yet complicated influence on black artists for more than a century. The powerful push and pull of this relationship constitutes a distinct tradition for many African American artists who have mined the narratives of art history, whether to find inspiration, mount a critique, or claim their own space. “Riffs and Relations” examines these cross-cultural conversations and presents the divergent works that reflect these complex dialogues.

Icarus by Hank Willis Thomas
56.5″x85.25″; quilt; 2016
Courtesy of the artist and the Collection of Debbie and Mitchell Rechler.

The exhibition is organized by The Phillips Collection with guest curator Dr. Adrienne L. Childs, an independent scholar, art historian and curator. She is an associate of the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at the Hutchins Center at Harvard University. Her current book is an exploration of blacks in European decorative arts entitled Ornamental Blackness: The Black Body in European Decorative Arts, under contract with Yale University Press.

(text adapted from the curator’s press materials)


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