20/20 at the Carnegie Museum of Art

This summer, in a unique institutional collaboration, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh and The Studio Museum in Harlem opened 20/20, a group exhibition with works by forty artists, twenty from each institution’s collection. Responding to a tumultuous and deeply divided moment in our nation’s history, the exhibition’s co-curators, Eric Crosby and Amanda Hunt, mined these collections to offer a metaphoric picture of America today.

Lyle Ashton Harris, Miss America (detail), 1987–88. The Studio Museum in Harlem; anonymous gift 2003.6.1. Photo: Sasha J. Mendez

Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Gallery) (detail), 2016. Carnegie Museum of Art, The Henry L. Hillman Fund. © Kerry James Marshall; courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, London

Spanning nearly a century—from 1920s photographs by James VanDerZee to recent works by Kerry James Marshall, Ellen Gallagher and Collier Schorr—20/20 provides a critical opportunity to prompt conversations about the necessity of art during times of social and political transformation.

20/20 unfolds through a thematic exploration of the foundations of our national condition in six different gallery sections. The nation’s economy, past and present, is a through-line in the exhibition, especially when examined in conjunction with social experience and its potential for relegation. In a section titled “American Landscape,” photographs by LaToya Ruby Frazier and Zoe Strauss record the effects of industry and dispossession on marginalized communities, while more abstract works by Mark Bradford, Abigail DeVille and Kori Newkirk make use of everyday and found materials to reclaim and reinvent our perspective on natural and urban landscapes.

At the center of the exhibition, a section titled “Documenting Black Life” is dedicated to the work of Charles “Teenie” Harris and James VanDerZee. These two prolific photographers worked through the better part of the twentieth century, and captured daily life of the black middle class. VanDerZee and Harris depict Harlem and Pittsburgh, respectively—both destinations of the Great Migration—as bustling, vibrant communities.

The final gallery in the exhibition, “Forms of Resistance,” displays contemporary viewpoints of America in works such as Kerry James Marshall’s Untitled (Gallery) (2016). Marshall’s practice challenges art history by emphatically reinserting the black figure into the canon of Western painting. Overtly political gestures by Lorraine O’Grady, Howardena Pindell and Lorna Simpson explore the power of language, identity and performance as instruments of institutional critique. Together, the galleries in 20/20 offer multiple pathways for reflection and interpretation on more than a century of life in America, and champion the necessity of the artist in the current moment.

20/20 is organized by Carnegie Museum of Art in partnership with The Studio Museum in Harlem, and curated by Eric Crosby, Richard Armstrong Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Carnegie Museum of Art, and Amanda Hunt, former Associate Curator at The Studio Museum in Harlem, and now Director of Education and Public Programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

—SaVonne Anderson