The Eternal Return – Charles White

Charles White, Five Great American Negroes, WPA Mural, 1939, Collection of Howard University Gallery of Art

I remember it was no small feat to carry this 5′ x 12′ 11″ monumental work up the steps of the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington, DC in 1999. I worked with the Studio Museum in Harlem as the traveling exhibition tour manager of To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities on a two year, multi-venue tour that ended in the summer of 2001 after being shown at Hampton University Museum in Virginia and at the Chrysler Museum. I remember the DC Police cordoning off the street as we unpacked the mural from its crate as it was too large for the loading docks and elevators. It was one of the most important and earliest exhibitions to show African-American artists in the context of American art, and part of a large initiative to train student conservators in preserving this material as well as the exhibition and its substantial scholarly catalogue. I remember working with curator Rick Powell and Kinshasha Holman Conwill, then head of the Studio Museum in reviewing and planning for this monumental achievement: an 11-venue show with more than 260 paintings, prints, photographs, sculpture and objects including works by Barkley Hendricks, William T. Williams, and Sam Gilliam, artists who are achieving world recognition today. Charles White: A Retrospective, includes the mural and is on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York through January 13, 2019.