’30 Americans’: New Barnes Foundation exhibit highlights four decades of African-American art

(Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

By Jamyra Perry

PHILADELPHIA —  Former Philadelphia Poet Laureate Sonia Sanchez said, “The Black artist is dangerous. Black art controls the ‘Negro’s’ reality, negates negative influences, and creates positive images.”

What better place to control that narrative than in your home with the art you choose to display?

African-American artists come from so many different communities and make art that speaks to a huge variety of life experiences. It can be overwhelming to know where to begin.

Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, curator of the “30 Americans” exhibit at Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation, says trust your instincts when it comes to buying art.

“30 Americans” is a traveling exhibition of painting, sculpture, photography, and installation by some of the most influential African-American artists of the past four decades.

“It’s important to buy art that you love and want to live with. It is almost impossible to predict the change in the value of a work of art over time, so using art as a financial investment is not something that I recommend. People should buy art from artists who are a part of their local communities or that they know personally,” DuBois Shaw says.

Many people think that building a collection has to cost you an arm and a leg but DuBois Shaw says there are plenty of art buying options that won’t break the bank.

“Collecting work by younger artists is a great way to support emerging careers and find good prices. Art lovers should check out the annual student graduation shows that our local art schools, colleges, and universities held every spring. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, U Penn’s Fine Arts department, Tyler School of Art, and Moore College of Art, to name just a few, all have great student shows where affordable art by diverse young artists can be found. Similarly, many of the galleries in Old City or the neighborhood art centers throughout the city have well-priced, absolutely amazing art for sale,” she says.

The curator says that by buying African-American art, it helps to ensure diverse voices are heard in this generation and beyond.

“It’s important to support the different communities that you value and spending money where you live, collecting art made by people in your community, is one of the best ways to make an impact,” DuBois Shaw says.

Supporting the art of one particular group over another may sound exclusionary but the “30 Americans” curator says, in this case, it has the opposite effect. It’s more like finally leveling the playing field.

“African-American artists have only recently been included in the big sales held by the major auction houses. For many years, Swann Auction house held regular African-American art sales, but they were largely alone in maintaining such a focus,” DuBois Shaw says.

For more information on the traveling “30 Americans” exhibit, which is at the Barnes Foundation through Jan. 12, or to hear DuBois Shaw moderate a conversation on the African-American art market with a panel of industry experts, visit barnesfoundation.org.

Jamyra Perry is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.