African American Masterpieces at Los Angeles Museums

"Daniel in the Lions' Den" by Henry Ossawa Tanner (detail) | Photo courtesy of LACMA

The cultural landscape of Los Angeles is deeply influenced by African American artists and philanthropists and the future of art in LA continues to blossom because of them. In the visual arts scene, contributions by African American artists are plentiful and are constantly on view at many of LA’s world-famous museums. Read on for a quick guide to some can't-miss, traditional and modern masterpieces currently in Los Angeles museum collections.

Entrance to the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Exposition Park
Photo: California African American Museum


The California African American Museum (CAAM) exists to research, collect, preserve and interpret for public enrichment, the history, art and culture of African Americans. The museum conserves more than 3,500 objects of art, historical artifacts and memorabilia, and maintains a research library with more than 20,000 books and other reference materials available for limited public use.
Basquiat Six Crimee MOCA
"Six Crimee" by Basquiat (detail) at MOCA | Photo courtesy of Anna L Conti, Flickr

MOCA, Basquiat: Six Crimee

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s iconic Six Crimee (acrylic and oil stick on masonite, 1982) is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Six Crimee represents the Neo-Expressionism wave of art originating from New York during the 1980s and Basquiat’s past as a graffiti artist. Brooklyn born and of Haitian-Puerto Rican descent, Basquiat is widely known for his "visual vocabulary" and "concrete poetry" as well as his edgy interview persona. His art is a mixture of symbols and figures representing African American history - words are combined with brush strokes, stick figures and color concoctions. Basquiat collaborated with his friend Andy Warhol on a series of paintings and projects during this exciting time in New York City’s arts scene.

"Daniel in the Lions' Den" by Henry Ossawa Tanner (detail) | Photo courtesy of LACMA

LACMA, Henry Ossawa Tanner: Daniel in the Lions' Den

The son of an African Methodist Episcopal bishop, Henry Ossawa Tanner’s career began in Philadelphia in the 1880s. With racial discrimination posing a threat to his career in the States, Tanner moved to Paris where he remained until his death. Tanner is regarded as one of the most significant painters of late nineteenth century romanticism and was one of the few painters to achieve critical acclaim in both Europe and the United States.

Daniel in the Lions’ Den (oil on paper mounted on canvas, 1907-1918) is currently on view in the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Daniel in the Lions’ Den depicts an Old Testament story set during the reign of King Darius of Persia. Tanner’s work is a version of an earlier painting of the same scene with slight modifications. It speaks to Tanner’s masterful use of color in order to create a compelling narrative on canvas with timeless appeal.

The Huntington, Kehinde Wiley's Portrait of a Young Gentleman

Commissioned by curators at the Huntington as both a celebration of, and an answer to the 300 year-old original Blue Boy painting: behold Kehinde Wiley’s phenomenal re-conception of "Portrait of a Young Gentleman". While the young man in the 1770 painting was rumored to be the nephew of the painter Thomas Gainsborough in a blue satin costume, Wiley’s model is the surf champion of Senegal. But the references to Wiley’s native Los Angeles don’t stop there. Check his Vans slip-ons and the beautiful detail of the California poppies that adorn the background, directly influenced by the Huntington’s collection of William Morris florals that he visited as a child.

"Soldier" by Charles White (detail) | Image courtesy of The Huntington

Huntington Library, Charles White: Soldier

A native of Chicago, Charles White moved to Los Angeles and taught at the Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County (now the Otis College of Art & Design) for more than a decade until his death in 1979. In July 2014, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens announced the acquisition of White’s painting, Soldier (tempera on masonite, 1944). Soldier is exemplary of White’s work –  a lone soldier is portrayed in a desert-like landscape and his disproportionately large and angular hands resemble a machine more than a human. White’s personal experience in the army is present as a subtext – this soldier’s face speaks of agony, an isolated soul. The artist’s works often deal with themes such as African American issues and social matters. Other works by White can be found in LACMA’s permanent collection.

Landscape with Ruin, Huntington Gardens
Landscape with Ruin, Robert Scott Duncanson, 1853,  24 x 32 in. (61 x 81.3 cm.), oil on canvas. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of Sandra and Bram Dijkstra

Huntington Library, Robert Scott Duncanson: Landscape with Ruin

Robert Scott Duncanson’s landscape paintings depict scenes that connect the artist’s roots. The son of an African American mother and a Scottish Canadian father, Duncanson grew up in Canada and Ohio, furthered his artistic skills in Europe and found artistic success in the American Midwest. Along with Charles White’s Soldier, The Huntington also announced the acquisition of Duncanson’s Landscape with Ruin (oil on canvas, ca. 1853), a dramatic depiction of an abandoned castle atop a cliff in a remote setting. The painting is on display in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. Walking out into the lush gardens at The Huntington is like stepping right into a Duncanson painting – the abundance of flora and fauna at the foot of the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains is a nature lover’s dream.

The Broad, Mark Bradford: Helter Skelter I

Located in Downtown Los Angeles, The Broad offers free general admission to its renowned collection of contemporary art, which includes works by Jean-Michel BasquiatMark BradfordJasper JohnsJeff KoonsBarbara Kruger, Robert RauschenbergCy TwomblyKara WalkerAndy Warhol and more. The Broad features two Infinity Mirror Rooms by Yayoi Kusama, which are immersive installations with LED lights reflecting endlessly inside mirrored spaces. Skip the line by booking tickets in advance at!

Henry Taylor, Watch Your Back, Hammer Collection
Henry Taylor,  Watch Your Back, 2013 Acrylic on canvas. 87 1/2 X 77 1/2 X 2 IN. (222.3 X 196.9 X 5.1 CM). Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Purchase. © 2013 Henry K. Taylor. Image courtesy of the artist.

Hammer Museum, Henry Taylor: Watch Your Back

The Hammer Museum offers exhibitions and collections that span classic to contemporary art, as well as programs that spark meaningful encounters with art and ideas. Through a wide-ranging, international exhibition program and the biennial, Made in L.A., the Hammer highlights contemporary art since the 1960s, especially the work of emerging and under recognized artists. The exhibitions, permanent collections, and nearly 300 public programs annually—including film screenings, lectures, symposia, readings, music performances, and workshops for families—are all free to the public.

The Broad, 13 Basquiats in the Permanent Collection

An in-depth installation of Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings, (now on view) features all 13 works by the artist in the Broad collection, including three works on view for the first time at The Broad: Santo 2 (1982), Deaf (1984), and Wicker (1984). Don’t miss them in the 3rd floor galleries, along with a presentation of ground-breaking artist Kara Walker’s illustrious works.

Getty Museum, Bettye Saar Archives

See the Getty's collection of European and American art from the Middle Ages to the present against a backdrop of dramatic architecture, tranquil gardens, and breathtaking views from downtown L.A. to the sea. Also includes a Research Library (open to visitors), a restaurant, and two casual cafes. Free tours daily, and a year-round roster of art exhibitions.