Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection

Presented by The Helis Foundation
January 29–May 19, 2019

Norman Lewis, Afternoon, 1969, Oil on canvas; 72 x 88 in., Collection of Pamela Joyner, © Estate of Norman Lewis, Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.

Solidary & Solitary tells the history of art by African-American artists, with a particular emphasis on abstraction, from the 1940s to the present moment. That story is a complicated one, woven from the threads of debates about how to represent blackness, social struggle and change, and global migrations and diasporas.

The exhibition is drawn from the Pamela J. Joyner and Alfred J. Giuffrida Collection, and explores abstraction, broadly understood, as a meaningful political focus, rather than a stylistic preference. For black artists, abstraction is charged with the refusal of representation that is socially dictated, both by racist stereotypes of the dominant culture, and the pressure from within the black community to create positive imagery. Abstract art as a practice embodies the possibility of individual freedom and autonomy, even within larger social identities.

Solidary & Solitary ties together artists like Norman Lewis and Leonardo Drew in an intergenerational history and presents a story of mutual aid and care, of artistic inspiration—the power for a young artist of seeing another black person as a creative producer. 


The Smart Museum’s presentation augments the core exhibition with three new commissions from Chicago-area artists, Bethany Collins, Samuel Levi Jones, and Amanda Williams.


Kevin Beasley
Bethany Collins
Leonardo Drew
Melvin Edwards
Charles Gaines
Sam Gilliam
Jennie C. Jones
Samuel Levi Jones
Norman Lewis
Glenn Ligon
Serge Alain Nitegeka
Shinique Smith
Tavares Strachan
Amanda Williams
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye