Elizabeth Catlett & Benny Andrews

WITH THE GRAND OPENING of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) less than a week away, anticipation is palpable. Visitor passes for the opening weekend disappeared shortly after their release and following last Wednesday’s media preview, numerous features have reported favorably on the forthcoming museum. While NMAAHC has been heralded for its object-based storytelling, documenting African American history from slavery to civil rights through the Presidency of Barack Obama, and exploring important cultural moments, it also celebrates visual art. 

Designed by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye, the museum boasts a significant art collection and selections from the holdings will be on view in the museum’s dedicated art gallery when it opens Sept. 24. The exhibition includes works by McArthur Binion, Edward Clark, Barkley L. Hendricks, William H. Johnson, Lois Mailou-Jones, Amy Sherald, Alma Thomas, and Charles White, among many others. Large-scale installations by Sam Gilliam, Richard Hunt, and Chakaia Booker are also on view at the museum. 

Beyond NMAAHC, opportunities to explore art by and about people of African descent abound in Washington, D.C. The city is brimming with exhibitions, talks and events. Some have been on view for months, others have September openings, and a few will be on view later in the fall. Several are official co-branded events, featuring the NMAAHC logo, presented in celebration of the museum’s debut.

The Hirshhorn Museum hosts Friday Gallery Talks. At the beginning of September, Hirshhorn conservator Gwynne Ryan gave a talk about preserving and protecting the materials in Senga Nengudi’s “RSVP Xon.” The artist, whose practice is rooted in the Black Arts Movement in 1960s Los Angeles, uses pantyhose in her work.

Lorna Simpson spoke at the National Gallery of Art earlier this month, presenting the inaugural Arnold Newman Lecture Series on Photography. Simpson’s work appears on one of four covers published by Smithsonian magazine for its special September issue dedicated to the African American museum.

Whether you were lucky enough to get an early preview or you are awaiting the appointed day when your timed pass will allow you to gain entry into the nation’s much-anticipated African American museum, to complement your experience, there are more than 10 African American art exhibitions in Washington worth visiting now and in the weeks and months to come. CT