Each week, Artful spotlights an art experience or destination that speaks to us right now.
The HBO documentary “Black Art: In the Absence of Light,” directed and produced by Sam Pollard, takes inspiration from a groundbreaking group show and is, in itself, an important communal effort. The show in question is "Two Centuries of Black American Art," which was organized by the scholar David Driskell (who died from Covid-related complications last year at 88) and debuted at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1976, bringing national attention to an entire canon that had been hidden in plain sight. (The film opens with footage of Driskell being interviewed by Tom Brokaw on The Today Show.)
Along with Driskell and other scholars and curators we hear from Black artists representing several different generations, including Betye Saar, Kerry James Marshall (who was a student of Saar's and saw Driskell's show as a twenty-one-year-old), and Jordan Casteel (who talks about growing up surrounded by images of works by Faith Ringgold and Elizabeth Catlett).
Some of the most fascinating material shines a spotlight on some of the support networks that have nurtured Black artists. The longstanding Artists-in-Residence program at the Studio Museum in Harlem is recognized as the life-changer that it is by alumnae such as Sanford Biggers, and dedicated collectors of Black art including Bernard Lumpkin and Kasseem Dean (better known as Swizz Beatz) speak candidly and emotionally about what collecting means to them and the artists they champion. The documentary leaves you with a powerful sense of how creativity, and visibility, can be enhanced by continuity and community.