Riffs and Relations

African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition

February 29 - May 24, 2020

Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition presents works by African American artists of the 20th and 21st centuries together with examples by the early 20th century European artists with whom they engaged. This exhibition explores the connections and frictions around modernism in the work of artists such as Romare Bearden, Robert Colescott, Renee Cox, Wassily Kandisnky, Norman Lewis, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Faith Ringgold, Hank Willis Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems, among others. European modernist art has been an important, yet complicated influence on black artists for more than a century. The powerful push and pull of this relationship constitutes a distinct tradition for many African American artists who have mined the narratives of art history, whether to find inspiration, mount a critique, or claim their own space. Riffs and Relations examines these cross-cultural conversations and presents the divergent works that reflect these complex dialogues.


The exhibition is organized by The Phillips Collection with guest curator Dr. Adrienne L. Childs.

With lead sponsorship provided by the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Visual Arts.

This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, The Robert Lehman Foundation, and Amanda and Earl W. Stafford.