3. The Studio Museum in Harlem
The Studio Museum at 144 W 125th Street in Harlem may have opened in 1968, decades after the Harlem Renaissance, but it hosts one of the most comprehensive collections of Harlem Renaissance art in the world. It aims to be an artistic nexus for African diasporic artists locally, nationally, and internationally, as well as to enrich the culture of its surrounding community. The museum prominently features the work of the artist James Van Der Zee, a leading photographer of the Harlem Renaissance. Van Der Zee opened his first photography studio on 135th Street in 1918, an era when the rebirth of jazz, poetry, and art was beginning to take off in Harlem. From 1916 to 1969, he operated his studio at various Harlem addresses and captured the likenesses of prominent local figures such as Marcus Garvey, the preacher Daddy Grace and Adam Clayton Powell, Sr.
Van Der Zee’s work captures wide-ranging scenes of Black life, from the every day to the aspirational. In an era when photography was rarely accessible or affordable to Black citizens – and portrayals of African American life in the national media were often stereotypical or negative – Van Der Zee revolutionized the way the Black body was photographed and presented. Many of his photographs capture warm and ordinary scenes of Harlem life, such as street scenes, group photos of local organizations and social clubs, and family and individual portraits. His commercial practice included portraits of famous individuals such as Muhammad Ali, Benny Andrews, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Countee Cullen, Marcus Garvey, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. His photographs also captured rare scenes of affluent and intellectual African Americans engaging in cultural activities such as reading, playing music, and attending the opera, indicative of the growing Harlem Renaissance movement. As of this publication, the museum is currently closed for renovations.