‘Just Above Midtown’ opens at MoMA; The Studio Museum of Harlem co-publishes the accompanying catalog

In New York in the 1970s and 1980s, black artists settled at Just Above Midtown (JAM), cultivating a seminal space for their community as the art world focused its exhibitions on presenting and amplifying white artists. “At the time, being an artist of color in one of the stables of these galleries was unusual, if not exceedingly rare,” writes ArtNews.

JAM, founded by filmmaker Linda Goode Bryant in 1974, opened the gallery space at 50 West 57th St., creating a supportive and thriving environment for prolific black artists such as Senga Nengudi, Howardena Pindell and Lorraine O’Grady . Greg Tate and Vernon Reid have spent time jamming their music here, and the space has hosted legendary visitors like Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis.

On October 9, the Museum of Modern Art opened an exhibition honoring the creative power and power of JAM titled “Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces”. “The accompanying catalog, co-published with the Studio Museum in Harlem, tells this one-of-a-kind story of an attempt to transform the infrastructure of the art world,” according to a MoMa statement. The exhibition is a culturally deep celebration of an intimate artistic representation of black excellence. “Most black-run arts organizations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens tended to exhibit representational work, which I called ‘red-green-and-black’ or ‘black women-nursingbabies’ art because that these were common elements. It was considered nationalist art,” Goode said. “We opened as a commercial gallery in 1974, but applied for and were granted nonprofit status in 1975. In the early years of JAM, I was very interested in cultivating black collectors and creating an infrastructure that would enable our community to support the art being created.”

“Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces” provides an opportunity to engage the next generation of black artists to explore their history and understand the strides that have been made for the black community. The groundwork laid by JAM and other galleries such as the WeusiNyumba Ya Sanaa Gallery and the Studio Museum in Harlem furthered the movement and the vanguard in the field of black thought; JAM, focused on black aesthetics, championed unique pieces that stood outside of the nationalist artistry that was popular at the time.

“JAM was a place as much as a world, a place where people ate together, talked and argued, drank and smoked together, collaborated at work, slept together, pushed each other and partied until let the cows come home,” said Lorraine O’Grady. “Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces” opened October 9 at MoMa 11 W 53rd St., New York, NY 10019. Visit www.moma .org/calendar/exhibitions/5078 for more information.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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