Charles White exhibit coming to Cincinnati in November

An expansive new exhibition coming to the Cincinnati Art Museum in November aims to shine a spotlight on the work and enduring legacy of celebrated Black artist and educator Charles White.

White is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential figures in 20th-century art for his work chronicling the African American experience. The Chicago native used his talents as a painter, draftsman, printmaker and muralist to delve into themes of love, hope, courage, freedom and dignity – “the full gamut of the human experience,” he was once said of his work.

Through the exhibit “Charles White: A Little Higher,” Cincinnati museumgoers will explore nearly 50 prominent works selected from the Primas Family Collection. The show is curated to tell the story of White’s nearly 40-year career, starting with his time as an art student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and spans his many professional experiences from the 1940s through the 1970s.

White died in California in 1979. He was 61.

Charles White’s “Sound of Silence II,” 1978, lithograph, 25 x 35 ¼ in.
Primas Family Collection, © The Charles White Archive

The Cincinnati Art Museum exhibition – which runs Nov. 10 through Feb. 25 – features several of White’s most emotive pieces, including two large charcoal drawings from his “J’Accuse” series. The showcase is believed to be among the first public displays of a group of 12 oil-wash illustrations by White. He created them in the 1970s for the Johnson Publishing Company of Chicago, which commissioned them as illustrations for Lerone Bennett, Jr.’s book “The Shaping of Black America.”

“Visually stunning, White’s commanding work bridges generations of art lovers and activists, communicating essential truths about what it means to be human,” said Julie Aronson, curator of American Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Beyond White’s work, the museum has invited regional artists and teachers to contribute their voices to the exhibition, literally. The museum included several written pieces – poetry and prose – to allow visitors to experience White’s work through a diverse lens of community voices.

Plans also call for a series of related events throughout the show’s nearly three-month run. It begins on Thursday, Nov. 9 with a members-only preview and a lecture open to the public.

“Charles White: A Little Higher” will be in the Sara M. and Michelle Vance Waddell Gallery, the Manuel and Rhoda Mayerson Gallery and the Dr. Kenneth and Barbara Kreines Gallery (galleries 125, 124 and 123, respectively) across from the Terrace Café.

No tickets are required. General admission to the museum and parking are also free.

Charles White Exhibit Events

Members Opening: Thursday, Nov. 9 from 5 to 7 p.m. – Light bites and cash bar. Free for members.  

Exhibition Lecture: Thursday, Nov. 9 from 7 to 8 p.m. – Details to be announced. Tickets available on the museum’s website. 

Family Storytime and Gallery Walk: Saturday, Jan. 6 from 11 a.m. to noon – Explore the galleries by stopping at different artworks for a hands-on learning activity and a related story. 

Choose Your Own Gallery Adventure: Saturday, Jan. 13 from 1 to 2 p.m. – Make your way through the galleries on this tour based on the “Choose Your Own Adventure”book series. Free. 

Art After Dark: Friday, Jan. 26 from 5 to 9 p.m. – Entertainment will celebrate the exhibition and feature music, food and drinks for purchase. Free.

See the Story Book Club: Saturday, Jan. 27 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. – Join librarians from the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library and museum staff for this bi-monthly book club. Free.

Cincinnati Art Museum