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Harold Neal and Detroit African American Artists: 1945 through the Black Arts Movement

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The University Gallery, School of Art and Design, at Eastern Michigan University is pleased to announce the exhibition Harold Neal and Detroit African American Artists: 1945 through the Black Arts Movement. The exhibition will be shown at the EMU Art Gallery from Monday, September 13 through Wednesday, October 20, 2021. A closing reception will take place on Sunday, October 17 from 1:30-4:30 pm. Harold Neal was an aficionado of jazz, especially Detroit jazz, and the Detroit Marion Hayden Trio will play at the opening. Hayden is one of the nation’s finest performers of the acoustic bass. In 2016, she received the prestigious Kresge Artist fellowship.

A panel discussion will follow the reception from 4:30 to 5:30 pm. Participants on the panel will be Allie McGhee, well-known Detroit artist, and Shirley Woodson, the 2021 Kresge Eminent Artist, both of whom are represented in the exhibition. Additional participants are Dr. Samantha Noel, Associate Professor of Art History at Wayne State University, and Detroit Black figurative artist, Tylonn Sawyer, an EMU alum. The University Art Gallery is in EMU’s Center at 900 Oakwood St., Ypsilanti, MI 48197. The panel discussion will be held in a room adjacent to the gallery.

A lecture titled "Detroit's Black Power Murals as Public Art," by Rebecca Zurier, Associate Professor, History of Art, University of Michigan, will take place on Tuesday, October 12 from 6-7 pm in EMU’s Halle Library Auditorium.

Detroit African American painter Harold Neal created some of the most forceful artistic statements of the Civil Rights, Black Power and Black Arts Movements. Focusing on Neal, Harold Neal and Detroit African American Artists: 1945 through the Black Arts Movement explores the efflorescence of Detroit African American art in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and the impact of the aforementioned movements on Detroit art.

Over the last twenty years, numerous scholarly publications have treated the work of African American artists of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. At that time, Detroit was the fifth largest city in the country with a large African American population and a vibrant Black arts scene. Nevertheless, the aforementioned publications fail to discuss Detroit African American artists. This exhibition focuses on the life and work of Memphis born Harold Neal, among the most talented and thoughtful of these artists. It also explores other Detroit African American artists, including Neal’s predecessors Hughie Lee Smith and Oliver LaGrone, who greatly influenced his career; his contemporaries Glanton Dowdell, Charles McGee, Jon Onye Lockard, Henri Umbaji King, LeRoy Foster and Shirley Woodson, and his successors Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts and Allie McGhee, who were greatly impacted by his work. Additionally the book addresses the rift in the Detroit African American art community in the wake of the Black Power/Black Arts Movements. Neal, like other artists of the Black Arts Movement, felt that art should speak directly to the experience of African Americans using African American figurative subjects, while others artists, like Charles McGee, sought to compete in the white art world, working in the abstract, non-objective styles then dominant in New York galleries.

The result of some ten years of research, this exhibition and its accompanying fully illustrated catalogue presents a view of post-World War II African American art history essentially unknown to other scholars. It expands our understanding of Detroit African American art first set forth in the author’s 2009 publication Energy: Charles McGee at Eighty Five. For this later project, Dr. Myers conducted extensive interviews with artists, scholars, friends and family members of the above mentioned artists. Most of their works remain in private collections, and Dr. Myers surveyed many of these, some in states outside of Michigan, in order to select the highest quality works. The exhibition and catalogue are based on hundreds of contemporary articles, published in Michigan Chronicle, Detroit’s African American newspaper and in other local newspapers, as well as on other hard-to-locate archival materials. Dr. Myers assesses these Detroit artists in relation to their peers in other major metropolises such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles/San Francisco, thus establishing that Detroit artists were significant contributors to African American art in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Following the closing of the exhibition at EMU, it will then travel to Wayne State University's Elaine Jacobs Gallery, where it will be shown from November 4 through Jan. 20, 2022, and then onto the Marshall Fredericks Museum at Saginaw Valley State University from February 1 through April 14.

The exhibition catalogue and its attendant programs are supported by Michigan Humanities.
They are part of the Detroit theme year, organized by EMU’s College of Arts and Sciences. For more information and list of events, go to tiny.emich.edu/detroit

For more information, contact Julia R. Myers, jmyers@emich.edu or 609-903-8418 or Greg Tom, University Art Gallery Director at gtom@emich.edu