Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist

This is a oil painting of a hand coming from the sky and pointing to a smaller figure on the land.

Aaron Douglas, The Creation, 1935, oil on Masonite, 48 x 36 in. (121.9 x 91.4 cm), Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist is the first nationally touring retrospective that brings together more than eighty rarely seen works by the artist Aaron Douglas (1899 – 1979), one of the most influential visual artists of the Harlem Renaissance. 


The exhibition includes paintings, prints, drawings and illustrations. Douglas combined angular cubist rhythms, seductive art deco style, and traditional African and African American imagery to develop his own unique visual vocabulary, which was part of a rich interchange between the visual arts, music, dance, literature, and politics. His bold paintings, murals, and book illustrations opened doors for African American artists in Harlem and beyond and made a lasting impact on American modernism. Susan Earle, curator of European and American art at the Spencer Museum of Art, organized the exhibition; Virginia Mecklenburg, senior curator at the museum, is the coordinating curator.

Visiting Information

May 8, 2008 August 2, 2008
Open Daily, 11:30 a.m.–7:00 p.m
Free Admission


Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist was organized by the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue are made possible in part with support from the Henry Luce Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Diane and Norman Bernstein Foundation, Inc. and PEPCO are proud to partner with the Smithsonian American Art Museum on the exhibition in Washington, D.C.

Exhibition Catalogue

A major monograph on Douglas accompanies this exhibition. The book includes an introduction by Kinshasha Holman Conwill, deputy director at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture plus essays by a number of prominent scholars, including Susan Earle, curator of the exhibition; David Driskell, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland; and Richard Powell, professor of art and art history at Duke University.