Charles White was one of the artists who chose to participate in Contemporary Black Artists in America, an exhibition held at Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, curated by Robert Doty, April 6 - May 16 1971. This was an exhibition that had become mired in considerable controversy. From the flyleaf to the publication:
“By brush or by pencil, in stone or in metal - whether jubilant or bitter - every gifted young artist today will to express himself boldly. And the Negro is not exceptional. Deep within, his creative energies are fired by the rich heritage of a continent where black Africans lived as men centuries before the Romans ruled. These he must now struggle to coalesce with a modern America, to compete to advantage in a world still largely governed by the white man. This collection of fifty plates, including six in color, represents the very best from the Whitney Museum’s most exciting, visually stimulating, 1971 exhibit of Contemporary Black Artists in America.”
The exhibition featured 58 practitioners, drawn from across the country, and came with an important catalogue, which included an uncredited essay, presumably written by Robert Doty. From the essay:
“So long as Black artists are inspired to create, they will continue to testify to the “Black experience,” the special conditions, heritage and emotions which delineate the life of Black people. But creative drives cannot be channelled. Inevitably an artist reacts to the ideas and techniques which constitute the current mode, sensing and assimilating new directions of thought and vision, or the evolution of his own technique and ideas guides him toward a new result. Richard Hunt and Barbara Chase-Riboud first received attention for their figure-oriented sculptures, but over the course of a decade both have worked towards abstraction, while retaining references to the organic in their pieces. As a young artist in California, Daniel Johnson has been preoccupied with the value of discarded objects and produced rough assemblages which often symbolized racial conditions. Since moving to New York, Johnson has been preoccupied with problems of color, form and space. Melvin Edwards entitled an early group of welded steel pieces “Lynch Fragments Series,” but his recent work demonstrates a coalescence of static and flexible states rather than racial tragedy. William Henderson painted a series of demonic images from the black world, but he has now refined both his technique and imagery to pursue hard-edged, geometric abstraction. The nuances of color and images of Africa are the vehicle for paintings by Frank Bowling. These six are representative of a new generation of Black artists, who inherited their own culture and sought the universal canons of the visual arts. Their task will be the accommodation, or rejection, of venerable emotions and new stimuli.”
Contents as follows:
Exhibition details, Trustees (Whitney), and Museum Staff
Essay (interspersed with 4 pages of artists’ images)
41 pages of artists’ images
Catalogue of minimal artists’ biographical detail, plus lists of work in the exhibition. (Note the names of town and cities that appear alongside the artists’ years of birth relate to the artists’ then-current locations, rather than the places in which the artists were born. For example, Arnold, Ralph. b. 1928. Chicago Ill.)
Selected Bibliography, by Libby W. Seaberg.
This was the hardback version of the catalogue, complete with dust jacket. The publication was distributed by Dodd, Mead & Company, New York.