New MOMA exhibit recognizes JAM, a 1980s Black art gallery that contributed to the NYC art scene

Thursday, November 3, 2022
New MOMA exhibit celebrates JAM, an influential Black art gallery
Half a century after this art was created and shown, it is finally getting recognition at MOMA in a new exhibit, Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces. Sandy Kenyon has the story.

Just Above Midtown, also known as JAM, was an art gallery and Black space that welcomed artists and visitors of many generations and races in New York City from 1974 until 1986.

Now, a new exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art celebrates the contribution of this unique cultural space.

"Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces" runs through February 18, 2023, and it is well worth your time and attention.

The New York Times calls the show a "time capsule" that is also a "treasure chest."

Half a century after this art was created and shown, it is finally getting recognition at MOMA where Thomas Lax curated this exhibit.

"At that time they needed, black artists in particular, not just a place to show which JAM provided, but also a place to gather, come together, experiment and do whatever it is they wanted to do with one another," Lax said.

JAM quickly became a hub for conceptual art, abstraction, performance, and video.

The gallery was established in Midtown at a time when that area was the center of the art world.

"It was really about how do you support artists being as creative as they can be," JAM Founder Linda Goode Bryant. "The galleries and museums were not showing African-American and other artists of color, and so I said, 'it's do it ourselves,' and decided to start JAM."

But, she was a single mom with few resources to realize her vision.

"We didn't have money," Bryant told said frankly stand before an entire wall in the MOMA exhibit plastered with old bills and past due notices from JAM's creditors.

A testament to the financial risks she took to open her gallery.

"And, we did it collectively," Bryant said. "It was a family of artistic creatives and supporters that made JAM happen."

At the time the folks in charge of the same museum that now houses this exhibit ignored her.

"Yeah, we were four blocks away," Bryant said. "JAM was on 57th Street. MOMA was on 53rd, and we couldn't get MOMA's attention."

The museum is paying attention now, even staging a joyous reunion of JAM artists and supporters to open the exhibit.

So justice delayed was, at least in this case, not justice denied.

Bryant took time at the exhibit opening to reflect on the community built around JAM.

The journey they made as a collective of artists carved a niche for people of color in a world that tried to keep them out.

"The love and respect, the family that we built is as strong today as it was back then," Bryant said.

For more information on Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces and tickets check the MOMA website.

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