Introducing the MET Exhibition: “The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism”

From February 24 to July 28, 2024, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City will hold an exhibition about the Harlem Renaissance. This brand-new show is titled “The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism.” It will showcase African-American artists from the 1920s-40s in Harlem, New York City. The exhibition is organized by Denise Murrell, a MET curator who has worked with the historically Black schools Howard University, Fisk University, and Clark Atlanta University to display works of various mediums. In conversation with the New York Times, Murrell stated that a focal point of the exhibition is conveying how “[b]ecoming painters of modern life within their own communities was key to what the Harlem artists were attempting.” The exhibition will hold pieces of various mediums, such as paintings, photography, sculptures, and works on paper. Artists whose works will be shown include Aaron Douglas, Archibald Motley Jr., and Augusta Savage, as significant names of the period. 

The origins of these artists of the Harlem Renaissance began after the end of World War 1. Throughout the 1920s, the surge in North and Midwestern economies motivated many to move states for job opportunities, leading to what is now known as The Great Migration. The result was a gathering of great Black artists and scholars in the heart of Harlem, setting the scene for a cultural movement. Diverse forms of expression arose within the depths of Harlem, ranging from the poetry of Langston Hughes to the photos of James Van Der Zee. Racial pride and sharing the reality of being Black in America influenced many Harlem Renaissance artists. Many describe this time as akin to a “cultural explosion”, drawing in some of the greatest minds of the time while being the birthplace of others. 

One such artist drawn to the city was Aaron Douglas, a painter and graphic artist now considered a prominent figure of the Harlem Renaissance. After arriving in 1925, he quickly became involved in Harlem’s art scene. He created illustrations for “Opportunity,” the National Urban League’s magazine, and for “The Crisis,” put out by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. His primary subjects were the life and struggle of African Americans. His most famous works were created in the 1930s when he created murals for Fisk University and a solo art show. It was then that he painted a series of murals, “Aspects of Negro Life,” which traced the history of African Americans from slavery to their modern-day identity. This series of murals became famous for its unique style, storytelling ability, and celebration of Black culture.

Another significant figure of the Harlem Renaissance who will be part of the MET’s exhibition is the Jazz Age Modernist Archibald Motley Jr. He is most well-known for his paintings, which utilized vibrant colors and realistic imagery. His portraits became well-renowned and received awards from institutes like the Harmon Foundation, marking the first time the work of Black artists was recognized by white society. Motely also wrote “The Negro in Art,” an essay published in an African American newspaper called the “Chicago Defender.” He spoke out against the unfair treatment of Black people in the states, specifically artists, and the limitations placed upon them. Within his visual art, his main intentions were to depict the diversity of Black people and to communicate how skin tone was used as an indicator of status. He hoped to refute the prejudiced perception of homogeneity within the African-American community.

Throughout the Harlem Renaissance, African Americans worked to celebrate their racial identity and advocate for accurate representation of Black people in the United States. The new exhibition provides the opportunity to learn more about this highly influential time for American art and the representation of minorities. 

Works Cited

“Harlem Renaissance – Definition, Artists & How It Started.” History.Com, A&E Television Networks,

Harlem Renaissance, Accessed 21 Oct. 2023.

“Met Exhibition to Present the Harlem Renaissance as the First African American–Led Movement of International Modern Art.” Met Exhibition to Present the Harlem Renaissance as the First African American–Led Movement of International Modern Art – The Metropolitan Museum of Art,

“A New African American Identity: The Harlem Renaissance.” National Museum of African American History and Culture, 14 Mar. 2018,