“Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces” by Linda Goode Bryant, Thomas J. Lax (editor), Lilia Rocio Taboada (editor), Thelma Golden (interviewer), Eric Booker (contributor), Brandon Eng (contributor), Kellie Jones (contributor), Yelena Keller (contributor), Marielle Ingram (contributor), Legacy Russell (contributor) Credit: Courtesy Image

In New York, during the 1970s and 1980s, Black artists made themselves a home at the Just Above Midtown (JAM), cultivating a seminal space for their community as the art world centered their exhibitions around presenting and amplifying white artists. “At the time, to be an artist of color in one of these galleries’ stables was unusual, if not extremely rare,” writes ArtNews. 

JAM, founded by filmmaker Linda Goode Bryant in 1974, opened the gallery space on 50 West 57th St., creating a supportive and thriving environment for prolific Black artists such as Senga Nengudi, Howardena Pindell and Lorraine O’Grady. Greg Tate and Vernon Reid spent time there jamming their music and the space welcomed legendary visitors like Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis.

On Oct. 9, the Museum of Modern Art premiered an exhibition honoring the creative power and potency of JAM titled “Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces.” “The accompanying catalog, co-published with The Studio Museum in Harlem, tells this one-of-a-kind story of an attempt to transform the art world’s infrastructure,” according to a statement from MoMa. The exhibition is a culturally profound celebration of an intimate artistic representation of Black excellence. “Most Black-run art organizations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens tended to exhibit representational work, which I called “red-green-and-black” or “Black-women-nursingbabies” art because those were common elements. It was considered nationalist art,” said Goode. “We opened as a commercial gallery in 1974 but applied for and secured nonprofit status in 1975. In JAM’s early years, I was very interested in cultivating Black collectors and creating an infrastructure that would enable our community to support the art being made.”

“Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces” offers an opportunity to engage the next generation of Black artists to explore their history and understand the strides that have been made for the Black community. The groundwork laid by JAM and other galleries such as the WeusiNyumba Ya Sanaa Gallery and Studio Museum in Harlem has brought forward motion and forward-thinking in the realm of Black thought; JAM, focused on Black aesthetic, championed unique pieces that sat outside of the Nationalist artist what was popular during the time. 

“JAM was a place as much as a world, a place where people ate together, discussed and argued, drank and smoked together, collaborated on work, slept together, pushed each other to go further, and partied ’til the cows came home,” said Lorraine O’Grady.“Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces” opened Oct. 9 at MoMa 11 W 53rd St., New York, NY 10019. Visit www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/5078 for more info.

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