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 Kandinsky, 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.

Exhibition catalogue
Available in the Museum Shop

Beautifully illustrated Riffs and Relations catalogue written by Adrienne L. Childs, with contributions by Valerie Cassel Oliver and Renee Maurer, foreword by Dorothy Kosinski, and statements from many of the artists featured in the exhibition.

Gallery Talks and Tours
Included with exhibition admission

45-min. introduction to Riffs and Relations

THURSDAYS, 6 & 7 PM (excluding Phillips after 5 days)
15-min. Spotlight Talk on one work of art in Riffs and Relations

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

With lead support provided by The Frauke and Willem de Looper Charitable Fund, Altria Group, and The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts.

Brought to you by the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, The Robert Lehman Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Eric Richter and Charles Shoener, Amanda and Earl W. Stafford, and George Vradenburg and the Vradenburg Foundation.

In-kind contributions provided by


Mequitta Ahuja
Charles Alston
Emma Amos
Romare Bearden
Sanford Biggers
Georges Braque
Moe Brooker
Henri Cartier-Bresson
Elizabeth Catlett
Barbara Chase-Riboud
Robert Colescott
Harold Cousins
Renee Cox
Beauford Delaney
Aaron Douglas
Leonardo Drew
David C. Driskell
John Edmonds
Ellen Gallager
Felrath Hines
Ayana V. Jackson
Jennie C. Jones
Loïs Mailou Jones
William H. Johnson
Wassily Kandisky
Titus Kaphar
Wifredo Lam
Jacob Lawrence
Norman Lewis
Henri Matisse
Sam Middleton
Piet Mondrian
Claude Monet
Wangechi Mutu
Pablo Picasso
Janet Taylor Pickett
Martin Puryear
Winold Reiss
Faith Ringgold
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
Chaim Soutine
Frank Stewart
Henry Ossawa Tanner
Alma Thomas
Hank Willis Thomas
Mickalene Thomas
Bob Thompson
Maurice Utrillo
Vincent van Gogh
Carrie Mae Weems
James Lesesne Wells
Hale Woodruff
Ossip Zadkine