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‘30 Americans’: A showcase of African American identity and expression

30 Americans will reside at the Barnes Foundation through Sunday, January 12. The engaging and immersive artistic showcase, drawn from the exceptional Rubell Family Collection, has the Roberts Gallery brimming with tremendous African American art. Curated by University of Pensylvania professor, Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, the exhibit displays works crafted by many of the most important African American artists over the last three decades. Shaw stated, “30 Americans has been, without question, this century’s most impactful exhibition of work by contemporary artists of African descent. More than simply an exhibition, it is a cultural phenomenon that has helped catapult the nascent careers of a number of the included artists, while also influencing and encouraging other artists and collectors across the country to pursue their individual visions.”

(30 Americans at the Barnes Foundation // Photo by Candis R. McLean)
(Lorna Simpson, “Wigs (Portfolio)” // Photo by Candis R. McLean)

Contemporary pieces from artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mark Bradford, Nick Cave, Barkley L. Hendricks, Kerry James Marshall, Wangechi Mutu, Lorna Simpson, Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, and Kehinde Wiley will blow you away with their intricacy, precision, and inventiveness. From the traditional to the avant-garde, the works continually investigate the depths of African American history, class and gender politics, prejudices, sexuality, and more.

(Kerry James Marshall, “Souvenir: Composition in Three Parts” // Photo by Candis R. McLean)
(Hank Willis Thomas, “By Any Means Necessary” // Photo by Candis McLean)

The Barnes Foundation’s commitment to celebrating and spotlighting heritage and tradition continues with this wonderful collection. “We are very proud to present the trailblazing and highly influential exhibition 30 Americans here in Philadelphia, and to host an extended conversation about its significant impact over the course of the last decade,” stated Thom Collins, Neubauer Family Executive Director and President of the Barnes Foundation.

(Mickalene Thomas, “Baby I Am Ready Now” // Photo by Candis R. McLean)
(Kara Walker, “Camptown Ladies” // Photo by Candis R. McLean)

The exhibit is artistically relentless.  At every turn, these canonical artists take you on a journey of discovery, navigating through the harrowing, conquering, and the eclectic African American experience.  This powerful and significant assemblage of art is a triumph. The spectrum of diversity on display is inclusive and unifying. While the works are culturally harmonious, the exhibit succeeds in perfectly illustrating the variance of voice and vision found within the community. Countering pervasive stereotypes, 30 Americans takes up the mantle of re-defining Black identity through expression and artistry.

(Nick Cave, “Soundsuit” // Photo by Candis R. McLean)
(Leonardo Drew, “Untitled #25” // Photo by Candis R. McLean)

Plan your visit to see the artistic legacy of these talented creatives which spans generations. Museum admission is $25 for adults, $23 for seniors, $5 for students, and free for members. You can take a guided tour through the Comcast NBCUniversal sponsored exhibit and discover more about the phenomenal collection and its history.

You can follow Candis McLean on Twitter (@CandisRMcLean) and e-mail her at [email protected].

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