The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art is proud to present the United States premiere of “Theaster Gates: Black Image Corporation” Jan. 28 – May 16, 2020. This exhibition, which was curated by internationally recognized artist Theaster Gates, includes 10 large format prints by two important African American photographers who both work for the Johnson Publishing Company: Moneta Sleet Jr. (1926 – 1996), the heralded photographer whose photograph of Coretta Scott King at her husband’s funeral won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969, and Isaac Sutton (1923 – 1995), a studio photographer and artist whose fashion photography and iconic photographs of Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin and many others earned him international acclaim. It also features thousands of images of African American women by other Johnson Publishing Company staff photographers.
“Theaster Gates: Black Image Corporation” was first presented at the Fondazione Prada in Milan in 2018 and subsequently at Gropius Bau in Berlin in 2019.
“Archives are the site of memory and the Johnson Publishing Company archive is an encyclopedic memorial of African American life, in particular the style, grace and beauty of Black women over three decades,” said Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., president of Spelman and a trustee of The J. Paul Getty Trust, one of several institutions that recently purchased the archive. “Theaster Gates’ exhibition is an exquisitely curated selection of images, shot by two outstanding Black photographers, Moneta Sleet Jr. and Isaac Sutton. As artists, the two photographers turned the pages of Ebony and Jet into galleries filled with defining images of Black women and, with the eye of an artist, Theaster Gates calls attention to the way in which these photographic images capture the imagination and power of self-authorship of Black women that continues to be a potent force in shaping and defining American culture.”
John H. Johnson (1918 – 2005), owner and founder of Johnson Publishing Company, was a highly successful entrepreneur. Established in 1942, the publishing house created publications that were considered essential for Black communities — of them, the most popular were the monthly Ebony and the weekly Jet, which began circulating respectively in 1945 and 1951. Both magazines are widely recognized for celebrating Black success and presenting a counter-narrative to the negative images and stories that were routinely presented in the mainstream press. Ebony and Jet were mainstays and rapidly rose to become the primary platforms for representation and discussion of Black life and culture in the nation. For more than seven decades, they featured a broad spectrum of events and personalities and were unique chroniclers of African American life. Over time, the Johnson Publishing archives grew to include more than four million images.
“‘Black Image Corporation’ takes its name from the impulse of the entrepreneurial premise of John H. Johnson and the Johnson Publishing Company,” shared Gates, explaining his curatorial premise. “This exhibition wanted to show how a set of extremely potent Black images focused on Black women might be reactivated in the public sphere for the purpose of articulating a truth about the American image, fashion, and race, but also how these images function as contributions to the ‘Black Imagination’ and continue to be relevant.”
Through “Black Image Corporation,” Gates reimagined and redeployed the iconic images and curated an interactive exhibition. One of the exciting additions to Spelman’s presentation is the inclusion of Gates’ “Facsimile Cabinet of Women Origin Stories” (2018), which includes photographs by several Johnson Publishing Company staff photographers. It was shown for the first time in the U.S. at the Colby Museum of Art at Colby College with an extensive program by the Lunder Institute for American Art. Visitors will be encouraged to put on archival gloves, handle the rich and varied representations depicting Black women in their everyday lives, historical moments, and studio settings, and select the images that they would like to see on display.
“Theaster Gates: Black Image Corporation” promises to stimulate discussion and curiosity about the importance of the Johnson Publishing Company archives and encourage audiences to align their personal histories with the living legacies of this iconic company,” explained Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Ph.D., C’93, director of the Museum. “This exhibition aligns with Spelman College’s legacy of being a longstanding and consistent site for art and culture that is deeply invested in the salient power and potential of images of Black women.”
The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art’s presentation of “Theaster Gates: Black Image Corporation” is made possible by the Wish Foundation and the LUBO Fund.
SOURCE: PR Newswire