African Americana at the Weisman

Unknown, Well-To-Do Black Couple (hand-colored tintype), about 1860. The Kinsey African American Art and History Collection

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day finds two wide-ranging surveys of African American art in L.A. The one with the street banners is LACMA's "Black American Portraits" (through Apr. 17, 2022). Easier to miss is a private collection show at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University. "The Cultivators: Highlights from the Kinsey African American Art and History Collection" (through Mar. 27, 2022) is drawn from the much-travelled 700-object collection assembled by two Florida-born, L.A.-based Pepperdine alumni, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey. LACMA has portraits by buzzy contemporary artists; the Weisman show includes abstraction (Norman Lewis, Beauford Delany, Alma Thomas, Sam Gilliam), as well as landscape (Robert Duncanson, Grafton Tyler Brown, Florida "Highwayman" Sam Newton) and figurative modernists absent from the LACMA show (Aaron Douglas, Hughie Lee-Smith). Portraiture isn't neglected. There's Augusta Savage's ubiquitous Gamin and a unique, little-known pencil sketch of James Baldwin dashed off by the young Romare Bearden.  

Romare Bearden, Sketch of James Baldwin, about 1950
Phyllis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1773

Art is just one component of the Weisman exhibition. The Kinseys collect historical documents, artifacts, rare books, and letters. Phyllis Wheatley's Poems (1773) is often the starting point of institutional collections of African American literature. The Kinseys have that, but also earlier works by Africans published in Europe. Leo Africanus's Ioannis Leonis Africani Africae (1632) is believed to be the first description of the African continent by an author of African descent. 

Historic prints range from Currier and Ives to the Black Panthers. The former publishers issued a commemorative print of the first Black Senator (Hiram Rhodes Revels, R-Mississippi) and Congresspeople (all from the South).

Currier and Ives, The First Colored Senator and Representatives in the 41st and 42nd Congress of the United States, 1872
Unknown artist, United States Soldiers at Camp William Penn, 1863
Hughie Lee-Smith, untitled, 1951
Norman Lewis, Hence We Come, no date
Sam Newton (one of the "Highwaymen"), untitled and undated

There were 26 Florida Highwaymen artists, and Paul Simon had 50 ways to leave your lover, but no one said my-way-or-the-highway better than Zora Neale Hurston. 

Zora Neale Hurston, "Mr. Price Letter," 1943