New HBO Documentary Connects Black Art’s Rich History and Vibrant Present

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Black Art also profiles artists and collectives. The film examines the work of the pioneering 1960s Black art and activist collective Spiral, and features interviews with landscape painter, Spiral member, and “Two Centuries” participant . Pollard couldn’t secure interviews with all of the artists he sought out (“I won’t name names, but some turned me down”), but the film features memorable interviews with figures like and , who discuss their iconic portraits of the Obamas. Kerry James Marshall describes the influence of ’s assemblage works on his painting—and Saar, in turn, describes Marshall’s time as one of her students. Ringgold, interviewed alongside her daughter, feminist critic Michele Wallace, describes the sexism that she faced from Bearden during a thwarted attempt to join Spiral, which had admitted only one woman, painter , to the group. “Talk about gender inequality,” said Pollard. “Whew.” The film is not only a historical overview, but an astounding compendium of Black artists talking about their work and one another.
The film also doesn’t neglect the significance of Black institutions and collectors, and highlights the importance of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in nurturing and promoting talent. Driskell, for example, was a Howard alum mentored by the famed artist and historian James Porter, a father of African American art history studies, and was a professor at Fisk when he curated “Two Centuries.”

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