In the near-century since it began, the Harlem Renaissance has captured the American popular imagination, eliciting ongoing critical and public interest, says Barton, curator of prose and drama in the Yale Collection of American Literature (YCAL). Beinecke’s exhibition, Barton emphasizes, “seeks to return us to the documents, photographs, artworks, and objects that have generated this tremendous response of scholarship, inquiry, and homage.”
Beinecke exhibitions are self-guided and always free and open to the public: Monday, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; Tuesday–Thursday, 9 a.m.–7 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; and Saturday, noon–5 p.m. Guided tours to the exhibition and to the library are also available every Saturday at 1:30 p.m. during the run of the show from Saturday, February 25, through Saturday, April 15.
The show includes material by Langston Hughes, Bessie Smith, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Aaron Douglas, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Du Bois, Countée Cullen, Augusta Savage, Carter Woodson, Alain LeRoy Locke, Gwendolyn Bennett, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Jean Toomer, James Van Der Zee, Gladys Bentley, Arna Bontemps, Laura Wheeler Waring, Wallace Thurman, Ethel Waters, Sterling Brown, E. Simms Campbell, and other creators of the era.
Gather Out of Star-Dust also features the work of writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten, a patron of the Harlem Renaissance and Johnson’s close friend. He established the JWJ Collection at Yale in association with Grace Nail Johnson as a memorial to her husband after his death in 1938. More than 50 of Van Vechten’s portraits of Harlem Renaissance and related cultural leaders are on view in the Beinecke exhibition.
A companion show, “Caricature Assassination: Miguel Covarrubias Murders New York” — organized by Nancy Kuhl, curator of poetry in YCAL — is also on view at the Beinecke through April 17. Covarrubias, who arrived in New York City from his native Mexico in 1923, sketched some of New York’s most famous writers, actors, editors, athletes, and politicians, including key figures of the Harlem Renaissance.
Barton says the Harlem Renaissance “has long raised some of the best questions about culture and its purpose: What is beautiful? What is good? What is it for? Who owns it? Can art change the lives of those who are poor and suffering?”
“Gather Out of Star-Dust brings these questions and criticisms back to the materials. It shows the complexity of the era through the juxtaposition of its artifacts,” she states. “We invite the public to ask their own questions as they simultaneously remember, reflect, enjoy, and find their own answers.”