Four Howard University Gallery of Art Works Featured in Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Exhibition

Courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Photo by Travis Fullerton, © 2021 Virginia Museum of Fine ArtsWASHINGTON – Howard University Gallery of Art currently has four works of art on display in the “Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture and the Sonic Impulse” exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). The exhibit concludes at VMFA, which is in Richmond, Virginia, on September 6.

Organized by the VMFA, the “Dirty South” focuses on the roots of Southern hip-hop culture and how the aesthetic traditions of the African American South have shaped visual art and musical expression over the last 100 years. This exhibit is curated by Valerie Cassel Olivier, Howard University alumna and VMFA’s Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary art.

“To be able to showcase works from the Howard collection is really wonderful, not only to shine a light on work that is in the collection, but the sheer commitment of historical Black colleges and universities collecting this work. That’s really deemed by the mainstream as the gold standard,” said Cassel Oliver. “We don’t celebrate Black artists as much as we should and value their output. However, I want people to see this as a holistic approach. Artists are writing our histories.”

Beginning in the 1920s with spirituals, jazz and blues, the presentation interlaces similarities in the visual art production of the Southern United States. The exhibition showcases an intergenerational artist group of artists working in various genres from sculpture, photography, sound pieces and large-scale installation works.

“It has been our pleasure to lend to the ‘Dirty South’ exhibition. Howard University has a vast collection of works by African-American artists that is not very well-known, and it is our goal to share as much of our collection as possible with the art-going public,” said Lisa Farringtonassociate dean of fine arts. “The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has given us a wonderful opportunity to showcase a rare Catlett terracotta; paintings by William H. Johnson from two unique periods in his career, expressionism and synthetic cubism; and an iconic, spiritually inspired image by Aaron Douglas in his inimitable graphic style. We are honored to be a part of this wonderful endeavor.”

The overall “Dirty South” exhibition highlights more than 140 works of art, drawing from the visual imagery found in music videos, song lyrics and cultural ephemera. The showcase focuses on the frameworks of landscape, belief systems and the Black body and contributions of academically trained artists as well as those creative intellectuals relegated to the margins as “folk artists.” 

The VMFA exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue that will serve as a review on the African-American South and highlight social responsibility as well as what it means to be Black in the South.

Howard University Gallery of Art Contributions to “Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture and the Sonic Impulse”

                                Elizabeth Catlett - Tired (1946)                                                 Aaron Douglas- Rise, Shine, for Thy Light Has Come (1927)

            William H. Johnson - House Sun Tree (n.d.)                                 William H. Johnson - Quintet (1940)


To learn more about the “Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture and the Sonic Impulse,” visit



Photo 1: Image 0525, Courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Photo by Travis Fullerton, © 2021 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Clementine Hunter (American, 1886-1988) Melrose Plantation, ca. early 1960s-1988, Oil on Masonite. New Orleans Museum of Art, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert F. Ryan, 73.205

Eldzier Cortor (America, 1916-2015), Southern Landscape, 1941, Oil on Masonite. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2016.2

William H. Johnson (American, 1901-1970), House Sun Tree (Landscape with Sun Setting, SC), n.d. Oil on canvas. The work is on Loan from the Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, DC and Howard University reserves all rights with respect to the work 

John Biggers (American, 1924-2001), Four Seasons, 1990, Colored lithograph on paper. Gibbes Museum of Art, Museum Purchase, 1994.017 

Kaneem Smith (American, born 1973), The Past is Perpetual/Weighted Fleet, 2012, Reclaimed cotton bale, vintage iron hanging scales, bailing wire, wooden palette. Courtesy of Artist and Nicole Longnecker Gallery, Houston, TX

Photo 2: Elizabeth Catlett, Tired, 1946, Teracottacourtesy of Howard University Gallery of Art

Photo 3: Aaron Douglas, Rise, Shine, for Thy Light Has Come, 1927, Opaque watercolor and black ink on paperboard, courtesy of Howard University Gallery of Art

Photo 4: William H. Johnson, House Sun Tree, n.d., Oil on canvas, courtesy of Howard University Gallery of Art

Photo 5: William H. Johnson, Quintet, c. 1940, Opaque watercolor, pen and ink on wove paper courtesy of Howard University Gallery of Art


About Howard University

Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 13 schools and colleges. Students pursue more than 140 programs of study leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced one Schwarzman Scholar, three Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 12 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African-American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit

About Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA)

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, is one of the largest comprehensive art museums in the United States. VMFA, which opened in 1936, is a state agency and privately endowed educational institution. Its purpose is to collect, preserve, exhibit and interpret art, and to encourage the study of the arts. Through the Office of Statewide Partnerships program, the museum offers curated exhibitions, arts-related audiovisual programs, symposia, lectures, conferences, and workshops by visual and performing artists. In addition to presenting a wide array of special exhibitions, the museum provides visitors with the opportunity to experience a global collection of art that spans more than 6,000 years. VMFA's permanent holdings encompass nearly 50,000 artworks, including the largest public collection of Fabergé outside of Russia, the finest collection of Art Nouveau outside of Paris, and one of the nation's finest collections of American art. VMFA is also home to important collections of Chinese art, English silver, French Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, British sporting, and modern and contemporary art, as well as renowned South Asian, Himalayan and African art. In May 2010 VMFA opened its doors to the public after a transformative expansion, the largest in its history. 

Media Contact: Aaliyah Butler;