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The Museum of Modern Art recently launched an exhibit celebrating the Just Above Midtown art gallery.
Known as Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces, the exhibit features works by influential artists like Lorraine O’Grady, Randy Williams, Adrian Piper, Howardena Pindell, Janet Henry, Senga Nengudi and others. Through the display, the museum’s aim is to replicate the iconic gallery and shed light on its impact on Black art.
Photos, videos and other historical objects, such as bills and past statements, are also included to supplement viewers with information on the inner workings and different chapters in the Just Above Midtown Gallery’s story. Through works of art and archival objects, the Museum of Modern Art, otherwise known more simply as MoMA, hopes to replicate the sense of community that the gallery built.
“This exhibition recognizes Just Above Midtown as the efflorescent space that modeled how art and the relationships art fosters could respond to a society in crisis,” said curator Thomas (T.) Jean Lax in a statement. “This ambitious project not only historicizes JAM’s importance, but also underscores its relevance in the present.”
Founded in 1974 in NYC, Just Above Midtown or JAM, was the idea of Linda Goode Bryant, a filmmaker and activist. As the works of Black artists were getting ignored by the mostly white community in NYC during the 70s, JAM was considered a space where Black creativity could be celebrated and where the inspiration for innovation could be found.
Although neighboring galleries weren’t fans of JAM, the space quickly grew in popularity amongst artists, even drawing the attention of musical legends such as Miles Davis and Stevie Wonder.
In 1980, JAM was forced to leave its original spot on 57th St. to move to Tribeca because of a spike in rent costs. The gallery was once again forced to move- this time to SoHo- and was eventually evicted, forcing JAM to close down in 1986. With the gallery permanently shut down, Goode Bryant went on to direct documentaries such as Flag Wars, Hurricane Teens and Mustafa.
She also went on to create Project Eats; founded in 2008, the project focused on making community programs to help NYC farms economically during the Global Food Crisis.
With the new exhibit’s launch now, attention is once again on JAM.
“At JAM’s openings, people were outside, down in the stairwells, in the lobby and out the building. The cross fertilization was amazing because every segment of the Black community came in,” said Goode Bryant in a statement on Lax’s Instagram. “Whatever their motivations for coming, however they identified, professionally or creatively, those distinctions started to break down.”