Outside, the city's sidewalks shimmer from the late summer temperatures. Walk inside a new show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), "Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance," and you feel a different kind of heat: The startling collection of paintings, sculpture, music, and literature evokes the passion of a pivotal period in this country's cultural development.
Between the two world wars, the African-American art arena exploded with talents - Louis Armstrong, W.E.B. Du Bois, Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, and Bessie Smith, to name a few. Their accomplishments defined both black and white popular culture for decades to come, particularly in music and literature. Harlem was the heartbeat of the movement, but as the show demonstrates, its impact was felt around the world.
Why look back at this seminal period now? Because the first artistic flowering of black America is particularly resonant today, according to LACMA director Graham Beal. "We're at a moment when culture is increasingly global," he says, not separatist.
He maintains that minority artists in America have gone through various evolutions of consciousness. "Now is the time for emphasizing connections rather than separations" - a theme, he explains, that runs through the show.
The exhibition itself was organized by the Hayward Gallery in London, in collaboration with the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington. LACMA coordinating curator Howard Fox comments that "Harlem was not just a place; it was a state of mind," one that permeated the time.