Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition

A timely consideration of African-American artists' rich engagement with the history of art from the twentieth century, this book is the winner of the James A. Porter and David C. Driskell Book Award for African American Art History.

Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition presents works by African American artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries together with works by the early-twentieth-century European artists with whom they engaged. Black artists have investigated, interrogated, invaded, entangled, annihilated, or immersed themselves in the aesthetics, symbolism, and ethos of European art for more than a century. The powerful push and pull of this relationship constitutes a distinct tradition for many African American artists who source the master narratives of art history to critique, embrace, or claim their own space. This groundbreaking catalog--accompanying a major exhibition at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.--explores the connections and frictions around modernism in the works of artists such as Romare Bearden, Pablo Picasso, Faith Ringgold, Renee Cox, Robert Colescott, Norman Lewis, Hank Willis Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems and Henri Matisse. The volume explores how blackness has often been conceived from the standpoint of these international and intergenerational connections and presents the divergent and complex works born of these important dialogues.

About The Author

Adrienne L. Childs is an associate of the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. Renée Maurer is an associate curator at the Phillips Collection, in Washington, D.C. Valerie Cassel Oliver is the curator of modern and contemporary art at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, in Richmond. Dorothy Kosinski is the Vradenburg Director & CEO of the Phillips Collection.

  • Publish Date: March 03, 2020
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Category: Art - American - African American & Black
  • Publisher: Rizzoli Electa
  • Trim Size: 9-1/2 x 11
  • Pages: 208
  • US Price: $50.00
  • CDN Price: $67.50
  • ISBN: 978-0-8478-6664-9


"This show couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Right after the MoMA reopened, making a huge splash by rethinking the canon, including placing work by African American artists in striking juxtaposition with modern masters...the Phillips Collection is organizing a show dedicated to further articulating these often-powerful connections. Shaking up the narrative of Modern art is no easy task. Guest curator Adrienne Childs explores how artists like Romare Bearden and Robert Colescott reimagined canonical works of European art in their depictions of African American life. Working in the vein of Modern abstractionists, artists Alma Thomas and Martin Puryear are celebrated for creating an aesthetic language for African American artists that challenged the racial politics hounding black art at the time....And these are only a few examples of the African American heavyweights in this show, who are set alongside Modern art luminaries. As investigations into the true narrative (or narratives) of Modern art continue, this show will provide a much-needed jolt of energy in the rebooting of the canon." —ARTAGENCYPARTNERS.COM