The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced a new exhibition on the Harlem Renaissance, one of the most influential artistic movements in modern American history. The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism will open on Feb. 25 and will run until July 28. It will take a look at how Black artists depicted modern life in cities during the 1920s to the 1940s, a period during which African Americans fled the segregated South and settled in the North.

The exhibit will be the first of its kind for a New York museum in nearly 40 years. It will feature underrepresented artists such as photographer James Van Der Zee or sculptor Augusta Savage. Artworks portraying the diaspora will also be included, with paintings by artists such as Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch and Pablo Picasso.

“We want to show the full breadth of thinking,” Murrell said. “In terms of historical context, this is the first time in art history where we have a cohort of African American artists depicting modern Black life in a modern way. These artists decided to commit their artistic careers to representing modern Black life in the absence of institutional or market support.”

Mainstream art institutions failed to take notice of these artists at the time and many don’t have collections inclusive of the Harlem Renaissance. This includes the MET, which acquired most artworks in the last 15 years. It is why the museum had to turn to HBCUs to stage this exhibition.

A significant portion of the art on display will be lent by Howard University, Fisk University, Hampton University and Clark Atlanta University. This includes the 1943 painting “Woman in Blue” by modernist artist William H. Johnson. The portrait, which was lent by CAU, will be the exhibition’s signature image.

Murrell hopes the collaboration marks the beginning of a partnership between the museum and HBCUs in an effort to preserve and display their collections.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Clark Atlanta University (@cau1988)

“Becoming painters of modern life within their own communities was key to what the Harlem artists were attempting,” Murrell said about the significance of the Harlem Renaissance. “It was an act of radical modernity, for example, to make portraits of an elder Black woman who would have been born into enslavement. And to make them in such a dignified way — those images simply did not exist in previous periods.”

The upcoming exhibition comes years after the MET staged the 1969 exhibit, “Harlem on My Mind,” which sparked protests for failing to include Black artists in favor of newspaper clippings and photography capturing mainly Black and Latino residents.