James Van Der Zee: Studio at Howard Greenberg Gallery




Howard Greenberg Gallery will open its doors to the exhibition, James Van Der Zee: Studio, with forty of his influential portraits spanning the 1920s through the 1950s, during the Harlem Renaissance.

James Van Der Zee, Couple in Racoon Coats, 1932, Gelatin silver print; printed c.1981, 3 3/4 x 4 5/8 inches. All images ©Donna Mussenden Van Der Zee, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

This marks the photographer’s first exhibition in New York in over fifteen years, providing a window into his legendary studio and the vast archive he created of Harlem’s cultural history. When James Van Der Zee opened his photography studio on 135th Street in 1918, a new era was beginning in Harlem, a time when jazz, poetry, art, and literature all flourished. Capturing the glamour as well as everyday life, Van Der Zee became known as the eye of the Harlem Renaissance.

James Van Der Zee, Broadway Delicatessen, c. 1925, Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1925, 9 1/2 x 7 12 inches. All images ©Donna Mussenden Van Der Zee, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Unique among portrait photographers, Van Der Zee used painted backdrops and luxurious props, creating elaborate tableaux for his subjects, and bathing them in flattering lighting. After developing his photographs, he would at times take out his paintbrushes, carefully hand coloring his images. Finding and portraying the elegance and refinement of his subjects was his mission be it Marcus Garvey, the noted civil rights activist and politician, or multiple generations celebrating a family event.

James Van Der Zee, Marcus Garvey with George O. Marke and Prince Kojo Tovalou-Houenou, 1924, Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1924, 5 x 7 inches

While known predominantly for his portraits, Van Der Zee also chronicled the streets around him. The exhibition will include his photographs showing Harlem storefronts, parades, and church groups, providing a glimpse of the era’s quotidian elements of life. Together with his portraits, they give viewers the most complete picture available of lives lived in Harlem for over a half a century.

James Van Der Zee, Church Group with U.S. Flag, n.d., Gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 inches. All images ©Donna Mussenden Van Der Zee, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

James Van Der Zee’s legacy has inspired numerous contemporary artists among them Lorna Simpson, who referenced Van Der Zee’s props in her recent photography; Dawoud Bey, who attended the 1969 Metropolitan Museum exhibition as a 16-year-old and was deeply affected; and Barry Jenkins, the director of the 2019 Oscar-nominated film If Beale Street Could Talk.

James Van Der Zee: Studio will be on view from March 7 through April 27, 2019 at Howard Greenberg Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, Suite 1406, NYC. Opening Reception will be held on Thursday, March 7 from 6-8pm.

While you’re in The Fuller Building, check out Light & Dark: Portraits of Distinguished African Americans at Keith de Lellis Gallery, suite 703, on view through March 21st.

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