By: Jada Wright-Greene
One of my goals in life is to visit every African American museum in the United States. July of 2019 I was able to visit the California African American Museum with my family. I even invited some friends to visit the museum on our journey. As a museum professional it can be difficult visiting a museum with non-museum professionals because of the natural progression you take through a museum; it’s either extremely slow or quickly. On this particular visit, I was able to control my “natural slow” journey in an African American museum.
A little background about the museum…
The museum was founded in 1977 and is the first African American museum of art, history and culture that is fully supported by a state. The operations of the museum formally began in 1981 under the leadership of Aurelia Brooks, the museum’s first director. The first object to be acquired was a bronze bust of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune by Richmond Barthé The permanent home of the museum moved in a 44,000 square foot facility in 1984 on the grounds of Exposition Park. The inaugural exhibition was The Black Olympians 1904-1984, curated by CAAM’s History Curator Lonnie Bunch, now Founding Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The exhibition debuted in July 1984 as the Games of the XXIII Olympiad were opening in Los Angeles.
My first impression of the museum has only been through social media and the unparalleled programs in the West Coast area of African American museums. I have admired the consistent programming that attracts millennials, young professionals and families. It was not strange that when we arrived in the museum, there were three tables with paper, markers and colored pencils available for children to create their own artwork. This was ideal for my 10, 8 and 4 year old children who are always asking to design their own artwork for our home. This may not seem very impressive, but for small children having an opportunity to be hands on is always engaging and keeps them happy.
The museum has several galleries for visitors to explore about contemporary art, culture and pieces that are housed in the permanent collection of the museum. On display during my visit:
Adia Millett: Breaking Patterns
The Liberator: Chronicling Black Los Angeles, 1900–1914
Plumb Line: Charles White and the Contemporary
Aspects of Nude: Selections from the Permanent Collection
Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective
My favorite exhibition on this visit was the Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective. You may not know who Ernie Barnes is from just reading his name, but I am sure one of his most famous pieces of work is familiar if you ever watched the television show, Good Times. Not only did the painting, The Sugar Shack appear on the show, it also was the cover art for Marvin Gaye’s album I Want You.
I was able to examine several of Barnes’ work and gained knowledge about his life. Barnes was not only an artist, but a professional football player in the NFL for the Baltimore Colts, Titans of New York, San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos. He has been commissioned to create works for the Carolina Panthers, rapper, producer and fashion designer, Kanye West and mayor Tom Bradley after the 1992 LA Riots.
I strongly encourage you to visit the CAAM on your next visit to the Los Angeles area and while you are there be sure to attend one of the many talks, workshops, concerts and performances that is presented by the programs department of the CAAM.
For more information about the CAAM visit: https://caamuseum.org/