Solidary & Solitary, drawn from the Joyner/Giuffrida collection, tells the history of art by African American artists from the 1940s to the present moment. That story is a complicated one, woven from the threads of debates about how to represent blackness; social struggle and change; and migrations and diasporas, particularly in relation to Africa, a recent area of expansion for the collection.
The collection is primarily focused on abstract art, broadly understood; this is a meaningful political focus, rather than a stylistic preference. For black artists, abstraction is charged with the refusal of representation that is socially dictated, both by racist stereotypes of the dominant culture, and the pressure from within the black community to create positive imagery. Abstract art as a practice embodies the possibility of individual freedom and autonomy, even within larger social identities. The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection has emphasized and celebrated individual specificity and achievement in collecting the work of many artists in-depth, even as it also ties the artists together in an intergenerational history.
That intergenerational history is a story of mutual aid and care, of artistic inspiration—the power for a young artist of seeing another black person as a creative producer. The final element of Solidary & Solitary is implicit: the historical support of African-American collectors that has made it possible for generations of artists to sustain a livelihood and career outside the mainstream. Today, those collectors, together with scholars, curators, and other supporters, have been instrumental in claiming a seat at the central table for these artists. Solidary & Solitary celebrates the achievement of individual artists, the collective history told by their art, and the social changes that have changed the way we understand art history in the broadest sense.
It is essential that these histories be told, that the possibilities of individual achievement, collective identity, and genuine, institutional social change be made vivid, concrete, and beautiful. Only by remembering and understanding these histories can we move forward towards a different future, collectively imagined.