Publication

  • The Smokehouse Associates
    Eric Guy Booker
    Author
    The Studio Museum in Harlem, 2020
  • GRANTEE
    The Studio Museum in Harlem
    GRANT YEAR
    2019

Smokehouse Associates William T. Williams, Melvin Edwards, Guy Ciarcia, and Billy Rose, mural proposal for Harlem, ca. 1970. Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.

Published by The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Smokehouse Associates is the first book to critically examine the work of the Smokehouse muralists, an artist collective formed in 1968 by William T. Williams, Melvin Edwards, Guy Ciarcia, and Billy Rose. Through developing community-oriented public art projects in Harlem, the collective sought to transform space through vibrant, geometric abstract murals and sculptures. Initially spanning three generations of artists, the Smokehouse collective eventually grew to encompass a diverse range of creative practitioners, all of whom united around the transformative potential of public art. Smokehouse rejected the social realist imagery used by other muralists in the late 1960s. Working through abstraction, they believed they could change people’s perceptions through changing the physical environment making it “visually and aesthetically better and therefore more human…” In this way, the artists positioned themselves at the vanguard—the act of participation in the renewal of the urban environment was a vehicle for change—inspiring communities of color to take pride and ownership of their neighborhoods throughout Harlem. The catalog considers the artistic landscape of the late 1960s, histories of social practice, and artistic interventions within the built environment, and the histories of civil-rights era artist collectives to contextualize the unprecedented work of Smokehouse. Featuring essays by Eric Booker and prominent field scholars, rarely seen archival images, historical text, and ephemera, the publication will serve as a sourcebook on Smokehouse, studying the radicalism of this project, and its lasting influence today.

The work of William T. Williams (b. 1942) is characterized by an abstraction that derives its force from productive tension among colors and forms. Williams attended Pratt Institute (1966) and Yale University (1968), where an interest in bringing his elite education and individual sensibility to communities traditionally excluded from museums led to the development of a proposal that brought artists directly into the community through residencies. This became the Studio Museum’s Artist-in-Residence program. He also brought public art to Harlem by means of a collective of abstract muralists known as the Smokehouse Associates, for which he is a founding member. Each project represents Williams’s groundbreaking approach to art-making and public engagement. He is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1987) and the Studio Museum’s Artist’s Award (1992). His work is represented in over thirty collections, including the Menil Collection, TX; Museum of Modern Art, NY; The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; and the Yale University Art Gallery, CT.

The work of Melvin Edwards (b. 1937) reflects the history of race, labor, and violence while engaging themes from the African Diaspora through abstraction and minimalism. He studied at the University of Southern California (1965) before moving to New York City in 1967, where his work was soon exhibited at the newly established Studio Museum. He became the first African-American sculptor to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in 1970. Edwards’s longstanding commitment to public art began in the 1960’s with his work in the Smokehouse Associates, for which he is a founding member. Edwards’s work is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, NY; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; among many others. Edwards taught at Rutgers University from 1972 to 2002. In 2014, he received an honorary doctorate from the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston.

Eric Guy Booker is a curator and art writer. Interested in counter narratives and representation, he focuses on the work of queer communities and communities of color. Booker is currently assistant curator and exhibition coordinator at The Studio Museum in Harlem where he has worked on a range of exhibitions, performances, and site-specific installations. Past projects include Jamel Shabazz: Crossing 125th, Smokehouse 1968–1970, and Regarding the Figure at The Studio Museum in Harlem (2017); Method Order Metric and Contemporary Highlights from the Collection at The National Academy Museum (2016); and Inside, Out Here featuring the work of Devin N. Morris and Frederick Weston at La MaMa Galleria (2018). Booker’s essays have appeared in Fictions (2017) and Black Refractions: Highlights from The Studio Museum in Harlem (2018), and he is a regular contributor to Studio Magazine.

Thelma Golden is director and chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, where she began her career in 1987 before joining the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1988. After a decade at the Whitney, she returned to the Studio Museum in 2000 as deputy director for exhibitions and programs, and was named director and chief curator in 2005. Golden was appointed to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House by President Obama in 2010, and in 2015 joined the Barack Obama Foundation's board of directors. She served as 2015–16 Chair of New York City's Cultural Institutions Group and was appointed to the Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The Studio Museum in Harlem is the nexus for artists of African descent locally, nationally, and internationally and for work that has been inspired and influenced by black culture. It is a site for the dynamic exchange of ideas about art and society.