David C. Driskell and “Two Centuries of Black American Art, 1750-1950”

We have had a lot going on in the David C. Driskell Center Archives lately, but I’m particularly thrilled about one recent development: Series 3: Exhibitions is completely processed, and the records can be accessed online through our PastPerfect database! I wanted to learn more about Prof. David C. Driskell as a curator and scholar,so I decided that I would process this series myself, and I really did learn quite a bit! The series is made up of four sub-series: Sub-Series 1: Solo Exhibitions, Sub-Series 2: Group Exhibitions, Sub-Series 3: Curated by David Driskell, and Sub-Series 4: Personal Art Collection.

I found Sub-Series 3 to be the most interesting and eye-opening sub-series in this group. Organized by the exhibition title, this sub-series pulls together the records that Prof. Driskell kept on exhibitions that he curated from the early 1970s through the late 1980s, including those on the Two Centuries of Black American Art: 1750-1950 exhibition. Two Centuries was a ground-breaking exhibition curated by Prof. Driskell for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA] in 1976 which aimed to educate the American public about the wide range and importance of African American art between 1750 and 1950. The exhibition was often billed as the first exhibition of its kind, offering American audiences a more holistic view of African American art and the contributions of African American artists to American culture. Prof. Driskell included crafts, quilts, architecture, paintings, and sculpture that had never been shown together in an exhibition before and which showed the evolution of African American art during two centuries beginning in 1750.

Of all of the exhibitions represented in this sub-series, the records on Two Centuries are the most comprehensive and detailed. They include correspondence between Prof. Driskell and the staff at LACMA on the purpose and logistics of the exhibition, correspondences with various institutions lending to the exhibition, and the research materials used by Prof. Driskell to curate the exhibition. Going through this material was fascinating: the correspondences and notes from Prof. Driskell really prove his passion for the exhibition, his attention to detail, and the difficult decisions he had to make in selecting which pieces of art include.

Though so much of the material is interesting and focuses on the organization of the exhibition, I always love seeing the reflective side of Prof. Driskell, so I wanted to share this journal entry that I found among his notes. Prof. Driskell dates the entry “June 1974-September 1976,” but it’s not clear when it was actually written.  You can read the entry below (click on the image to see it bigger):

"Some Notes Relating to the Assemblage of the Exhibition "Black American Artists, 1750-1950" for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art - June 1974-Sept 1976, Page 1" (undated): Box 11, Folder 15. David C. Driskell Papers: Exhibitions (Curated by David C. Driskell), David C. Driskell Center Archive.

“Some Notes Relating to the Assemblage of the Exhibition “Black American Artists, 1750-1950″ for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – June 1974-Sept 1976, Page 1” (undated): Box 11, Folder 15. David C. Driskell Papers: Exhibitions (Curated by David C. Driskell), David C. Driskell Center Archive.

"Some Notes Relating to the Assemblage of the Exhibition "Black American Artists, 1750-1950" for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art - June 1974-Sept 1976, Page 2" (undated): Box 11, Folder 15. David C. Driskell Papers: Exhibitions (Curated by David C. Driskell), David C. Driskell Center Archive.

“Some Notes Relating to the Assemblage of the Exhibition “Black American Artists, 1750-1950″ for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – June 1974-Sept 1976, Page 2” (undated): Box 11, Folder 15. David C. Driskell Papers: Exhibitions (Curated by David C. Driskell), David C. Driskell Center Archive.

"Some Notes Relating to the Assemblage of the Exhibition "Black American Artists, 1750-1950" for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art - June 1974-Sept 1976, Page 3" (undated): Box 11, Folder 15. David C. Driskell Papers: Exhibitions (Curated by David C. Driskell), David C. Driskell Center Archive.

“Some Notes Relating to the Assemblage of the Exhibition “Black American Artists, 1750-1950″ for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – June 1974-Sept 1976, Page 3” (undated): Box 11, Folder 15. David C. Driskell Papers: Exhibitions (Curated by David C. Driskell), David C. Driskell Center Archive.

Though I love the sketches and his honesty about the project, the best part about this document is how he puts it all together in a linear way, showing the reader his own perspective and thought process on this major project. So often, I find things like this throughout the Driskell Papers, and it always reminds me how unique and personal parts of the Driskell Papers are. This is just one of many wonderful, informative documents in Series 3: Exhibitions!

Read more about another journal entry we have from David C. Driskell here and a past blog post about Series 3, Sub-Series 4: Personal Art Collection here.

This post was written by Stephanie Maxwell, Archivist at the David C. Driskell Center Archives.  

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