An exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service arrived at Phoenix Art Museum
and featuring rare paintings by William H. Johnson, from the collection of the James E. Lewis Museum at Morgan State University. An essential figure in modern American art, William H. Johnson (1901-1970) was a virtuoso skilled in various media and techniques, and produced thousands of works over a career that spanned decades, continents, and genres.
William H. Johnson: An American Modern is on view April 19 to July 13, 2014, and Phoenix Art Museum is the final venue of a multi-city tour. The pivotal stages of Johnsons career as a modernist painter are assembled in this group of rarely seen paintings. Every step of his artistic development is conveyedfrom his post-impressionist and expressionist works of the 1920s, to vibrant vernacular paintings from the end of his career in the 1940s, in which Johnson articulated his distinctive, unforgettable vision as an American modern artist.
The paintings boast a remarkable history. In 1956 the Harmon Foundation, a nonprofit that helped foster awareness of African American art from 1922 until it closed in 1967, took ownership of Johnsons own collection of artsaving it all from being destroyed. When the foundation had to shut its doors, they donated more tan 1,000 works to the Smithsonians National Collections of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum). The terms of the agreement called for the Smithsonian to donate artworks to several black colleges and universities, including Morgan State University. The founding chair of Morgans art department, James E. Lewis, was first to carefully select these works for his museums permanent
Developed by Morgan State University and SITES, William H. Johnson: An American Modern is made possible through the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Henry Luce Foundation, Morgan State University Foundation Inc, and the Ford Motor Company Fund. This exhibition is complemented by an illustrated companion book William H. Johnson: An American Modern (University of Washington Press, 2011) with essays by Richard J. Powell, Leslie King Hammond, and others. The book features some of the worlds premier scholars of Johnson and African American art history, re-examining the artist and presenting him in new, fresh ways.