Charles White’s last retrospective exhibitions had taken place several decades ago, both before and following his death in 1979. These retrospectives came with important, though relatively modest catalogues. Towering over these exhibitions from several decades ago, and towering over their attendant catalogues, was Charles White: A Retrospective, the first major museum survey devoted to the artist in well over 30 years. The exhibition charted the breadth of Charles White’s career—from the 1930s through to works completed before his death in 1979. Featuring in excess of 100 works, including drawings, paintings, prints, photographs, illustrated books, record covers and archival materials, this was by far the most extensive, well-resourced exhibition of the artist’s work ever to take place. Fittingly, it travelled to prominent galleries in the three US cities with which White was associated. Opening at the Art Institute of Chicago, the exhibition travelled to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, finishing its tour at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This was a weighty, profusely illustrated catalogue, coming as it did with important texts by leading scholars and well-known names.

From the flyleaf:



Edited by Sarah Kelly Oehler and Esther Adler

With essays by Esther Adler, Ilene Susan Fort, Kellie Jones, Sarah Kelly Oehler, Mark Pascale, and Deborah Willis and a preface by Kerry James Marshall

Charles White (1918 - 1979) is best known for bold, large-scale paintings and drawings of African Americans, meticulously executed works that depict human relationships and socio-economic struggles with a  remarkable sensitivity. This comprehensive study offers a much-needed reexamination of the artist’s career and legacy. With handsome reproductions of White’s finest paintings, drawings and prints, the volume introduces his work to contemporary audiences, places him in the art historical narrative, and stresses the continuing relevance of his insistent dedication to producing positive social change through art.

Tracing White’s career from his emergence in Chicago to his mature practice as an artist, activist and educator in New York and Los Angeles, leading experts provide insights into his creative process, his work as a photographer, his political activism and interest in history, the relationships between his art and his teaching, and the importance of feminism in his work. A preface by Kerry James Marshall honors White’s significance as a mentor to an entire generation of practitioners.

Published by the Art Instiute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and distrubuted by Yale University Press, the publication’s contents were as follows:

Page of exhibition details, catalogue production details, et cetera

Foreword, James Rondeau and Glenn D. Lowry

Acknowledgements, Sarah Kelly Oehler and Esther Adler

A Black Artist Named White, Kerry James Marshall

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: Charles White’s Murals and History as Art, Sarah Kelly Oehler

“Graphic Interpreter of the Black People”: Charles White as Draftsman and Printmaker, Mark Pascale

Plates: Chicago and War Years

Charles White: Feminist at MidCentury, Kellie Jones

In Search of Beauty: Charles White’s Exposures, Deborah Willis

Plates: New York

Charles White’s Art and Activism in Southern California, Ilene Susan Fort

Charles White, Artist and Teacher, Esther Adler

Plates: Los Angeles

Chronology, Compiled by John Murphy and Ashley James

Selected Inventory of Charles White’s Library, Compiled by Ashley James

Selected Exhibition History, Compiled by John Murphy and Stacy Kammert

Checklist of the Exhibition

Selected Bibliography


Photography Credits

Print Quarterly, published in June 2019 (Vol. XXXVI, no. 2) carried a review of this major publication, Charles White: A Retrospective. Written by Judith Brodie, the review (which was accompanied by three sizable reproductions, one of which was full page) was spread over five pages and was a particularly appreciative appraisal, the concluding sentiments of which were,

In a review of the recent exhibition, critic Philip Kennicott wrote, ‘Race was a major factor in the egregious failure to calibrate the real worth of [White’s] work, not just because he was black, but because he took up black life as his subject’. This worthy catalogue goes far to counteract that failure. (235)