The first major 21st-century museum retrospective on this famed mid-century artist, Charles White: A Retrospective traces White’s career and impact in the cities he called home: Chicago, his birthplace; New York, where he joined social causes and gained acclaim; and Los Angeles, where he developed his mature art and became a civil rights activist. The exhibition includes approximately 100 drawings and prints along with lesser-known oil paintings. A superb draftsman, White focused on images of both historical and contemporary African Americans, depicted in ideal portraits and everyday scenes. He extolled their dignity, humanity, and heroism in the face of the country’s long history of racial injustice and encouraged his viewers and fellow artists of color to project their own self-worth. White created non-violent images despite escalating racial tensions; only in the mid-1960s did he become frustrated with the slow progress and begin to infuse his work with allusions to the continuing violence, poverty, and disparity of educational, housing, employment, and voting opportunities.
Two concurrent and complementary exhibitions will be on view in Los Angeles. Life Model: Charles White and His Students (February 16–September 14, 2019) will be on view at LACMA’s satellite gallery at Charles White Elementary School, formerly Otis Art Institute, where the artist taught for many years, and Plumb Line: Charles White and the Contemporary (March 6–August 25, 2019) will be presented at the California African American Museum, whose mission to showcase African American history, art, and culture was shared by White throughout his career.