Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a new exhibit, “Harlem Roots,” will open later this month in the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building, marking the return of the New York State Harlem Art Collection to the public for the first time since the mid-1990s. The exhibit features select pieces from a collection by artists who have made significant contributions within their communities and the art world at-large. These artists helped elevate what was coined “community art” to what is now considered some of the finest American art created in the 20th century by predominantly Black and Latino artists working in New York City. More information on the exhibit can be found here.
“Recognizing Harlem for its rich cultural history and the influence artists and their art have in this vibrant community, New York State is pleased to return the Harlem Art Collection to its public place at the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building,” Governor Cuomo said. “This exhibit celebrates the artists whose work helped elevate New York as a beacon of the art world and will serve as a tribute to their incredible contributions to the art community at-large.”
“We are proud of our rich culture and diversity in New York, and this new exhibit will highlight the great work of 20th century Black and Latino artists,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “The ‘Harlem Roots’ artwork will celebrate our community strengths and promote inclusiveness among all New Yorkers. I encourage residents and visitors to visit the exhibit and see it firsthand at the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building in New York City.”
The “Harlem Roots” exhibit will be unveiled at a preview reception open to the public on October 30 in the Powell Building’s second-floor Art Gallery and Community Room. Beginning November 15, the free exhibit will be on view to the public from noon to 7 p.m. each Friday. The building is located at 163 West 125th Street.
The New York State Harlem Art Collection was conceived in 1976 to draw the public’s attention to art that celebrated the contributions of the Harlem art community. Then Senator H. Carl McCall established a Harlem State Office Building Committee on Arts and Culture in 1975, which included State and City leaders, as well as representatives of the Harlem business community.
Based on the committee’s recommendations, the State amassed a collection of more than 100 pieces of art, including paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints, and mixed-media, by 65 artists. Several of these artists are now considered major contributors to the history of American art with works that can be found in MoMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the National Museum of African American History & Culture, the Tate Modern and as part of major national and international exhibitions.
The “Harlem Roots” exhibit features works by artists in the collection, such as Jacob Lawrence, Roy DeCarava, Palmer Hayden and Elizabeth Catlett. The public can expect to see additional pieces, such as painter Barkley Hendricks’ Lamont on the Case, in future exhibits, which will display art from the collection on a revolving basis over the next year.
In 1977, the Harlem State Office Building Committee on Arts and Culture held a ceremony to announce works chosen for the Harlem Art Collection. The following year, an exhibition, “Selections from the Harlem State Office Building” opened and included many of the newly purchased artwork, including Masquerade by Jacob Lawrence.
Throughout the 1980s, art from the collection was exhibited regularly, interspersed with special exhibitions in the building, which was renamed the “Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building” in 1983.
In the mid-1990s, most of the collection was moved into storage in the basement of the building to make way for exhibits of works by local contemporary artists and student artists in the community.
Several pieces of the Harlem Art Collection experienced water damage in 2006 when broken pipes caused flooding in the basement. The collection was then moved to the building’s 13th floor storage area where it remained in poor condition and hidden from public view for five years.
The collection was rediscovered when renovations were being planned for the 13th floor, and the art was temporary relocated to Albany in 2012 to assess the condition of the artwork. Individual pieces that required specialized attention were sent out for conservation repairs, cleaning and restoration.
As conservation of the collection continues in 2019, works will be brought back to the Powell Building for “Harlem Roots” and future exhibits.
Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito said, “Governor Cuomo has made it a priority for State agencies to make the best use of public spaces, and our recent renovation of the New York State Harlem Art Gallery and Community Room in the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building provided us with a wonderful space to, once again, make this important art collection available to art and history lovers alike. The exhibit ‘Harlem Roots’ is the first of several exhibits that will feature pieces from the collection on a revolving basis over the next year.”