Since its founding in 1968, The Studio Museum in Harlem has steadfastly supported artists. Now it is the artists’ turn to support the museum as it breaks ground for its new building and marks its 50th year. To benefit the campaign for the construction of the Studio Museum's new home, which is designed by Adjaye Associates in collaboration with Cooper Robertson, prominent artists will donate works to be offered in Sotheby’s New York 16–17 May Contemporary Art sales. Among the 42 artists participating in “Creating Space: Artists for The Studio Museum in Harlem” are Mark Bradford, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Sam Gilliam, Rashid Johnson, Glenn Ligon, Julie Mehretu, Lorna Simpson and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.
(FROM LEFT) RENDERINGS OF THE MAIN ENTRANCE FROM 125TH STREET AND 124TH STREET FACADE. COURTESY ADJAYE ASSOCIATES.
“I’m profoundly touched by the tremendous generosity that artists and their representatives have demonstrated for this project,” says the Studio Museum’s director, Thelma Golden. “It means so much to have artists support us in creating this dynamic new building, where their work can engage the public even more deeply and for generations of artists to come.”
DAVID ADJAYE AND THELMA GOLDEN. PHOTOGRAPH BY SCOTT RUDD.
Construction on the six-story, purpose-built space will begin this fall, and it is projected to continue through 2021. The museum will stand in the same spot on 125th Street where it has been since 1982, when it moved from a nearby rented loft to a former bank building refurbished by architect J Max Bond, Jr. There was never a question of leaving the iconic center of Harlem, Golden says: “We are a part of the vivid everyday life of our neighborhood.”
In designing the 82,000-square-foot structure, architect David Adjaye took inspiration from three characteristic features of Harlem: its light-filled churches; its solid brownstones; and the bustling theatricality of its streets.
The soaring, sky-lit atrium and state-of-the-art galleries are meant to kindle if not religious devotion, at least the transformative power of art. Inside the public hall, tiers of benches will evoke the iconic Harlem stoop and serve as a social nexus – a site for conversation as well as an amphitheater for public programs. Making artworks visible to passersby, the transparent street-level glass facade will naturally draw people in. Communicating inclusion and openness was crucial, Golden explains. “We are a place of gathering,” she says. “This is where families will engage with art and with each other, and where art will provoke profound conversations about society.”
ARTISTS CONTRIBUTING WORKS TO THE AUCTION INCLUDE (TOP ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT) SAM GILLIAM, LORNA SIMPSON, MARK BRADFORD AND NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY (BOTTOM ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT) RASHID JOHNSON, LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, JULIE MEHRETU AND GLENN LIGON.
Artists contributing works to the auction include (left to right) Sam Gilliam, Lorna Simpson , Mark Bradford, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Julie Mehretu and Glenn Ligon.
The museum’s founders saw themselves as establishing not just a museum dedicated to works by artists of African descent, but an institution with a singular role in the community. In fact, change was written into its DNA: Golden mentions an early founders’ document that cites Harlem’s sense of “newness, strength, and change.” Fifty years on, that sense remains: both neighborhood and museum have undergone significant transformations, while the art world has become more diverse and attuned to representation – thanks, in large part, to the Studio Museum. “There are so many artists, curators, educators and leaders before me who were a huge part of that change,” Golden continues, “but there is still more to do. Our founding mission still resonates with the work we are doing today to support artists of African descent broadly and deeply” – artists who have not been afforded the recognition they deserve, as well as the next generation.
GLENN LIGON'S 2016 STRANGER #86 WILL BE OFFERED IN THE UPCOMING "CREATING SPACE” AUCTION AT SOTHEBY’S NEW YORK.
For the latter group, the institution’s signature offering is its artist-in-residence initiative, which put the “studio” in Studio Museum. Given annually to three emerging artists of African and/or Latino descent, the highly coveted, eleven-month residencies have produced a veritable who’s who of contemporary art, with artists such as David Hammons, Kerry James Marshall, Lorna Simpson, Mickalene Thomas and Kehinde Wiley. (Allison Janae Hamilton, Tschabalala Self and Sable Elyse Smith are this year’s residents.) Several of the artists donating works to the Creating Space sale were in the residency programme, and are represented in its permanent collection; many can trace significant career moments back to the Studio Museum. Simpson’s work was first shown there in Constructed Images: New Photography in 1989, while both Bradford and Johnson made their New York debuts in 2001’s Freestyle, Golden’s first major show as the museum’s director and curator, a post she took in 2000 after a decade at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The most remarkable aspect of this process, for me, was how quickly everyone said yes, and how they did it with such generosity.
At the Whitney, Golden’s defining curatorial moment was Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art, in 1994. Controversial, historic and still sharply relevant, the exhibition considered the complexities of representing black masculinity in American culture. Among the artists featured was Ligon, a close friend of Golden, who has deep ties to the Studio Museum: he was an intern in the 1980s and has since had a strong presence there. His site-specific Give Us a Poem, spelling out ME WE in neon letters, has greeted museum visitors since 2007 and will be installed in the new building. For the Sotheby’s auction, Ligon has donated Stranger #86, from an ongoing series of paintings that reproduce the text of James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “A Stranger in the Village” using coal dust. Among other works are Sam Gilliam’s Red Shoes, 2017, painted with layers of vivid acrylic hues on intersecting wood panels, and An Assistance of Amber, a 2017 portrait by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.
LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE’S 2017 PAINTING AN ASSISTANCE OF AMBER IS AMONG THE WORKS IN THE UPCOMING “CREATING SPACE” AUCTION AT SOTHEBY’S NEW YORK.
How did those and other artists respond when Golden approached them about contributing a work? “The most remarkable aspect of this process, for me, was how quickly everyone said yes,” she says, “and how they did it with such generosity.”
Although construction on the new building will be ongoing through 2021, the museum will maintain its presence through the inHarlem initiative, a series of exhibitions and programming in satellite spaces and partner institutions. In the coming months and years, the artists-in-residence will be working in studios on 127th Street, in the same location as the museum’s interim curatorial offices. The inHarlem strategy is vital, says Golden – a dynamic institution does not simply turn off, even temporarily. While Adjaye’s structure rises on 125th Street, “the scholarship, educational activities and the support of artists and the community will continue,” Golden affirms. “Those elements are at the heart of The Studio Museum in Harlem – now, and for the next half century.”
During the construction, the Studio Museum will continue its programming in satellite spaces around Harlem, and has just named the 2018 artists-in-residence. For more information visit www.studiomuseum.org.
Related: The Studio Museum in Harlem: Championing Artists of African Descent for 50 Years
Meghan Dailey is global digital editor at Sotheby's.
Creating Space: Artists for The Studio Museum in Harlem will be on view in New York 4–16 May. Contemporary Art Evening & Day Auctions: 16–17 May.