From 1974 to 1986, artist and activist Linda Goode Bryant led Just Above Midtown, a New York art gallery that offered opportunities for African American artists and artists of color to showcase their work in a time when the predominantly white art world paid them little attention. JAM became a recognized institution, with seminal artists like David Hammons, Lorraine O’Grady, and Senga Nengudi presenting important early pieces in the space, yet rejected the traditional commercialization of the art world. It was also remembered as a vibrant community, where Nengudi recalls, “the energy was just oozing out the door.”
Now almost 50 years since the birth of JAM, New York's Museum of Modern Art is celebrating its impact with retrospective exhibition, "Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces." Curator Thomas Jean Lax has been in collaboration with Goode Bryant since 2018 for the show, which will open October 9 and present an archive of work that was shown at JAM's West 57th Street location. The gallery was “a place as much as a world," says O’Grady of its impact, "a place where people ate together, discussed and argued, drank and smoked together, collaborated on work, slept together, pushed each other to go further, and partied ‘til the cows came home.”
The exhibition will also give viewers a taste of JAM by featuring performances, screenings, and public programs, to represent the legacy of programming that Goode Bryant hosted with the gallery. In addition, Goode Bryant has commissioned a video installation by filmmakers Arthur Jafa and Garrett Bradley to be shown in January, where artists will respond to the prompt, “What do you carry with you from JAM?” However, in the spirit of documenting the entire history of the place and being “emotionally honest about what the conditions were at the time,” Lax's curation will also uncover the gallery's challenges, shown through unpaid bills and collection notices from Goode Bryant’s files.
Goode Bryant was an art world visionary, providing a platform for a community of underrepresented artists to showcase their work, and creating an art laboratory that addressed all pieces of an artist's practice, from workshops on business strategy to opportunities to connect with art audiences. “If we want change we have to create that," the gallerist said to the New York Times. "To me that is the ultimate art—the ability to use what we have to create what we need."
"Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces" is on view at the Museum of Modern Art from October 9, 2022 to February 18, 2023 at 11 W 53rd St, New York, New York 10019.