In the course of five decades, the Studio Museum in Harlem has grown from a fledgling art space to a key institution with a permanent home. These are the milestones in its history.
The Studio Museum opens with a Tom Lloyd solo show in an 8,700-square-foot loft on Fifth Avenue. But not all the festivities go as planned—one visitor breaks a sculpture.
Charles Inniss, the museum’s first director, resigns as the local community continues to decry the museum for being out of touch with what Harlemites want. Edward S. Spriggs is brought on two months later to replace him. A group show organized by artist William T. Williams opens to controversy over its inclusion of Steven Kelsey, a white artist, and its focus on abstraction. Williams is accused of being “antiprogressive.”
Spriggs departs. His replacement comes from outside the art world: Courtney Callender, who had worked at the New York City Parks Department and campaigned to keep the museum in Harlem.
Mary Schmidt Campbell becomes the first female director of the Studio Museum. Since then, the museum has been led exclusively by women.
The museum faces a lawsuit over the James VanDerZee archive, with the artist alleging he wasn’t properly compensated when the museum became custodian of it.
The museum moves into its first permanent home, in a building on 125th Street renovated under the direction of J. Max Bond Jr. Five years later, it expands into an adjacent vacant lot.
“Tradition and Conflict: Images of a Turbulent Decade 1963–1973” opens, an exhibition that is considered a key survey of how Black art was inspired or affected by the civil rights movement.
Campbell steps down as director, and Kinshasha Holman Conwill, previously deputy director, takes the top role.
Works from the Studio Museum’s vaunted collection travel to 10 museums across the country in the exhibition “25 Years of African-American Art.”
Lowery Stokes Sims, a Metropolitan Museum of Art curator, becomes director of the Studio Museum after Conwill steps down.
Thelma Golden and Christine Y. Kim curate “Freestyle,” an exhibition that posits a kind of work known as “post-Black art”—and generates debate.
Sims steps down and becomes president, and Thelma Golden is promoted to director and chief curator. Golden now ranks among the most closely watched museum directors in the U.S.
Musician George Wein honors his late wife, a longtime Studio Museum trustee, by funding the Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize, which gives $50,000 to an African-American artist annually.
The Studio Museum reveals plans for a new $175 million home on West 125th Street designed by David Adjaye’s architecture firm. After pandemic-related delays, construction is now expected to continue into 2022.
A version of this article appears in the Winter 2021 issue of ARTnews, under the title “The Studio Museum Effect.”
Correction, 12/22/20, 10 a.m.: A previous version of this article stated that the Studio Museum acquired the James VanDerZee archive. The museum is the custodian of the archive, but it has never acquired it.