30 Americans is a wide-ranging survey of work by many of the most important African American artists of the last three decades. Selected from the Rubell Family Collection, the exhibition brings together seminal figures such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Hammons with younger and emerging artists such as Kehinde Wiley and Shinique Smith. Often provocative and challenging, 30 Americans focuses on issues of racial, sexual, and historical identity in contemporary culture. It explores how each artist reckons with the notion of black identity in America, navigating such concerns as the struggle for civil rights, popular culture, and media imagery. At the same time, it highlights artistic legacy and influence, tracing subject matter and formal strategies across generations.
Originally displayed at the Rubell Family Foundation in Miami, Florida, 30 Americans has been reconceived for its presentation in Washington. At the Corcoran, the exhibition is organized around the idea of artistic community and legacy, highlighting relationships between artists across generations. Various galleries will center on a foundational figure, showing how that artist’s ideas and formal innovations ripple through contemporary practice. For instance, Robert Colescott’s investigations of the narratives of art and history in relation to African American culture echo through the grand portraits of Kehinde Wiley and the cut-paper silhouettes of Kara Walker. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s graffiti-based paintings of the urban environment find current form in the work of Mark Bradford and Shinique Smith. David Hammons’s wry investigations of language and meaning in a racial context provide a starting point for the conceptualism of Glenn Ligon and Lorna Simpson. Other galleries explore themes of self-presentation, masquerade, and media culture.
30 Americans consists of 76 paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, and videos, and includes spectacular works of art such as Leonardo Drew’s massive cotton and wax sculptureUntitled #25, several of Nick Cave’s exuberant Soundsuits, and a large-scale silhouette by Kara Walker.