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HARLEM ON MY MIND: CULTURAL CAPITOL OF BLACK AMERICA 1900 - 1968

at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969

The exhibition recorded the struggle to establish an urban black culture in 20th century industrialized America. Documenting life in Harlem from 1900 to 1968, it surveyed the changing character of this neighborhood during each decade, the continuing relevance of South-North problems, the major historical events, and the leading figures associated with Harlem, particularly in literature, theater, politics, music, art and commerce. Planned as a sixty-minute orchestrated experience of images and sound, the exhibition introduced new communications technologies and interpretive presentation methodologies to museums. The museum's galleries were transformed into vast communications environments, each providing visitors with a different experience simulating the mood of a decade. By moving through the exhibition galleries, it was possible to witness history unfold and to sense what people might have thought and felt at those times: from white to black Harlem at the beginning of the century, the jazz age of the twenties, depression and hard times in the thirties, World War II at home and abroad, frustration in the fifties and militancy and identity in the sixties. For the first time, television monitors and slide projectors appeared in museum galleries. Film and recorded sound were produced to accompany the exhibition. Traffic flow was pulsed to encourage people to continue to move. In 1969, such methodologies were considered heretical; today, they are conventional. It was one of the first of what have since been termed "blockbuster" exhibitions.

At the end of its thirteen-week schedule, 410,00 people saw the exhibition. Many were black; more blacks than were ever seen before at the Metropolitan Museum demonstrating that the culture of minority people deserved to be a major agenda item for museums. The exhibition served as a fuse to ignite awareness of this need and transformed museums internationally.

Steven Dubin, "Displays of Power: Memory and Amnesia in the American Museum, 1999

"For those Americans who lived through the 1960"s, the tumult and excitement, the sense of things falling apart or beginning anew, the fervor, the naivete, and above all the emotionally charged rhetoric are all easily recalled … Harlem On My Mind is landmark. It opened the doors of cultural institutions to multimedia technology. It helped define the blockbuster exhibition. It launched at least one person's career, but hobbled several others'. Harlem on My Mind also provides a template for the museum-centered controversies that followed … Harlem on My Mind pushed an array of civic pressure points, inducing cries of pain in several quarters … Racism was unmistakably in the forefront of the public's consciousness in 1968 while Harlem On My Mind was being designed … In many respects the catalogue overshadowed the exhibition. At the very least, it expanded the range of those taking offense to this venture."

The New York Times, 1995

"Before Harlem On My Mind the cultural establishment had largely relegated black culture to natural history museums, as if it were anthropology, not art. And so Harlem on My Mind was to be a breakthrough … From the distance of a generation, it seems clear what went wrong with Harlem on My Mind… The show was a Molotov cocktail of then-radical exhibition techniques and reckless social politics … the pity is that Harlem On My Mind, as you can glean from the reprinted catalogue had its strengths. It contained discoveries like the photographs of James Van DerZee .. it clearly introduced countless people to the Harlem Renaissance and to a rich cultural mileu only a few blocks north of the museum. It was a celebratory exhibition at heart …"

NEWS: 50th Anniversary HARLEM ON MY MIND exhibition, 2019, in planning stage

George Magazine January , 1999