Special to the AmNews

What Minister Seretta C. McKnight described as “one of the most anticipated events on the New York social calendar,” the Harlem Fine Arts Show kicked off Feb. 4. According to its founder, the “Harlem Fine Arts Show is the largest African diasporic art show that travels through the United States.” The four-day program showcased the works of dozens of artists on multiple floors of the historic Riverside Church.

With a recent increase in high-profile art lovers and collectors such as Jay Z, this show resonates even more with the public. In addition to the art on display, it also featured a lunch symposium with journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault and a gospel performance on the final day.

Ushering in the event on opening night with McKnight were WBLS’ Ann Tripp and the event’s founder, Dion Clarke. An official portrait of longtime New York Rep. Charles Rangel was unveiled during the opening night ceremonies. Rangel expressed his appreciation and referenced his upcoming retirement, saying, “This means a lot to Alma and me as we wrap up the Washington part of the career that we’ve had. But I want to make it abundantly clear that the struggle goes on and I will continue to be about that struggle. It’s just shifted from Washington back to Lenox Avenue.”

Rangel congratulated Clarke and stressed the importance of the Harlem Fine Arts Show to the Black community. “We could never be more proud whether we’re talking about Paris or Berlin wherever we are. We’re so proud that you incorporated our village to be your inspiration in doing what has to be done in order to continue to educate our people about what an important part this is to our lives.”

Assemblyman Keith Wright, who Rangel referred to as “my successor,” also poured on the accolades and added a little more spice with a somewhat naughty pun about the Rangel portrait.

Opening night also featured a presentation of artwork to former model and restaurateur B. Smith and her husband, Dan Gasby. Gasby expressed his deep admiration for the “style, grace, strength, courage and decency” of Black women. He spoke at length about the need to tackle issues of health in the Black community. He called illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, from which Smith suffers, “a 21st century civil rights issue.” Said Gasby, “Black folks are two to three times more likely to have Alzheimer’s or dementia or some sort of brain neurological disease than non-African-Americans.”

A lunch symposium hosted by celebrated journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault took place Saturday. On the menu was a Chardonnay from Hunter-Gault’s very own wine label called Passages. She spoke at length about her life and about her experiences as a journalist and now denizen of South Africa. She also generously fielded questions from the audience after her presentation. The show also featured a rousing gospel performance on the last day and free entrance for New York City students.

The Harlem Fine Arts Show, according to Clarke, is an offshoot of an event begun by Jocelyn Wainwright and Stedman Graham (yes, that Stedman Graham) called the National Black Fine Arts Show. Clarke commented, “They started that event in the late 1990s.”

The Harlem Fine Arts Show grew out of its first inception in 2009 downtown at the New York Armory. One of the main differences between the National Black Fine Arts Show and the Harlem Fine Arts Show is that “the Harlem Fine Arts Show decided to bring the artists to the stage. It was a one-on-one-type of opportunity,” Clarke explained. “We have all of our artists on the premises to get the opportunity to meet the different consumers to develop relationships to speak one-on-one and ultimately develop an understanding of all their particular works.”

The show featured works in a wide spectrum of media, including wood, oil, fabric, plastic, metal and even silicon. Of particular note was the “Visions of Our 44th President” exhibit, which was on display in the “Black Art in America” room. The organization Black Art in America was also one of the sponsors. “Visions of Our 44th President” featured several busts of President Barack Obama, all created by different artists.

Najee Dorsey, an artist himself and head of the organization Black Art in America, was on hand to explain the current position of Black art in the overall art market, stating, “Right now is a really important time. We’ve had more exhibitions in museums of African-American artists than ever before. We have the museums starting to collect work. It’s unprecedented for contemporary artists as well as legacy artists, and the market is really solid.” Dorsey also talked about the importance of appreciating art first-hand as opposed to online or in pictures. “You can’t get a sense of the texture, the depth. There’s much more meaning when you can see it in person. You get a fuller grasp on what the artist is trying to portray.”

In addition to New York, the Harlem Fine Arts Show will travel to several cities, including Houston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The Harlem Fine Arts Show will be at Martha’s Vineyard in August and in the Bahamas for the first time later this year. Next year, there are plans to take the show to London and Paris. For more information, visit www.hfas.org, http://blackartinamerica.com and http://visionsofour44thpresident.com.