30 Americans
2/2/2019 - 5/5/2019

An exhibition from the Rubell Family Collection. 

"As the show evolved, we decided to call it 30 Americans. 'Americans,' rather than 'African Americans' or 'Black Americans,' because nationality is a statement of fact, while racial identity is a question each artist answers in his or her own way, or not at all. And the number 30 because we acknowledge...that this show does not include everyone who could be in it."
— Mera and Donald Rubell
30 Americans is the first major exhibition at Joslyn to survey the work of contemporary African Americans artists. Drawn from the Miami-based Rubell Family Collection, this exhibition features paintings, works on paper, sculptures, installations, and videos created over the past three decades. Since 1964, Mera and Donald Rubell have built one of the world’s largest privately-owned, yet publicly-accessible collections of contemporary art. 30 Americans was first staged in 2008 at the Rubell’s warehouse in Miami and has traveled to museums throughout the United States, with each venue given the opportunity to curate a unique exhibition from the collection’s extensive holdings.

What's pictured: (above) Kehinde Wiley (b. 1977, Los Angeles, CA), Sleep, 2008, oil on canvas, 132 x 300 in.; (below) Nina Chanel Abney (b. 1982, Chicago, IL), Class of 2007, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 114 x 183 in.; Both courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection, Miami. Photos by Chi Lam.

30 Americans explores the evolving roles of black subjects in art since the 1970s and highlights some of the most pressing social and political issues facing our country today, including ongoing narratives of racial inequality; the construction of racial, gender, and sexual identity; and the pernicious underpinnings and effects of stereotyping. Many of the artists in this exhibition interrogate how African Americans are represented, politicized, and contested in the arts, media, and popular culture. Driven by the exclusion of black subjects in art throughout much of history, Barkley L. Hendricks dedicated his career to creating a space for black bodies in painting. Kerry James Marshall, Kehinde Wiley, and Mickalene Thomas have embraced this mission, celebrating and glorifying black subjects through pictorial traditions including genre painting and portraiture.

Connecting the major themes in 30 Americans is a broader consideration of the power dynamics and imbalances that perpetuate racially-motivated discrimination and oppression. Recent paintings by Henry Taylor and Nina Chanel Abney call attention to the high rates of imprisonment of African Americans, while installations by Kara Walker and Gary Simmons from the 1990s confront the terrifying history of violence against black bodies in the United States, a reality that continues to resonate sharply. In directly engaging these topics, 30 Americans offers a challenging—and at times disconcerting— account of race in the United States, and explores how our shared history as Americans continues to shape the ways we interact and engage with our fellow citizens today.

The final painting Nina Chanel Abney completed as a graduate student, Class of 2007 explores the disproportionately low number of students of color in art schools and the inverse reality of incarceration rates in America, where blacks are five times more likely to be imprisoned than whites. In an effort to speak directly to her fellow students, Abney “filtered them through [her] vision,” switching their races and dressing them in prison jumpsuits, while recasting herself in a position of power as a correctional officer. When the painting was unveiled, Abney’s classmates responded with mixed shock, anger, and amusement as they saw themselves directly implicated in an uncomfortable conversation about race and discrimination.

Kehinde Wiley’s elaborate and grand canvases call attention to the absence of black bodies in the history of painting. Flowers are a recurring motif in his work, suspending sitters in time and space and countering the stereotype that black masculinity is threatening, a pressing concern for Wiley, who has noted that his only model for portraits of black men when he began painting were mug shots. Modeled after German artist Hans Holbein the Younger’s painting The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, 1520–1522, Sleep (pictured at the top of the page) is one of several canvases featuring prone bodies that Wiley created to elevate his subjects to the realm of heroism.

Working across media, Xaviera Simmons engages a rigorous practice driven by research and writing. In this self-portrait, Simmons employs blackface, a performative trope dating to the mid-nineteenth century that reinforces negative stereotypes about people of color. Influenced by theater, the artist often emphasizes the performance involved in producing her work. Building on the history of photographs that portray people of color and women as “types,” for this photograph Simmons assumes the roles of subject, photographer, stylist, make-up artist, and set designer, placing the power to write her story in her own black, female hands.

Nick Cave started making Soundsuits during the devastating 1992 Los Angeles riots. Composed of found materials and scaled to the artist’s body, this early work was Cave’s attempt to provide black bodies in America with protective armor. As he continued to make the suits, he embraced their ability to obscure race, gender, and class, and encourage unbiased interactions. The artist pairs the extravagant floral armature in this work with leggings featuring a psychedelic print that recalls the 1960s hippie subculture, when the flower became a symbol of peaceful resistance. A recurring theme in Cave’s work, the power of protest is central to the many performances he has staged that bring the Soundsuits to life.

Wangechi Mutu emigrated from Kenya to the United States as a young adult, an experience that sparked her enduring interest in how women of color navigate the world. Translated from French, the title of this 2007 collage is “No, I regret nothing.” Here, a contorted form with vaguely human characteristics appears to burst with energy or exertion. Mutu created this work at a time when she was having problems traveling due to her citizenship status. Despite such issues and the ongoing struggle with self-identity that accompanies migration, Mutu asserts that leaving Kenya opened the door for her to “resolve the invisibility” of black women worldwide.

What's pictured: (above right) Xaviera Simmons (b. 1974, New York, NY), One Day and Back Then (Standing), 2007, Chromira c-print, 30 x 40 in.; (above left) Wangechi Mutu (b. 1972, Nairobi, Kenya), Non je ne regrette rien, 2007, ink, acrylic, glitter, cloth, paper collage, plastic, plant material, and mixed media on Mylar, 54 1/2 x 92 1/2 in.; Both courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection, Miami. Photos by Chi Lam.

Artists in the Exhibition

Nina Chanel Abney (b. 1982, Chicago, IL); John Bankston (b. 1963, Benton Harbor, Ml); Jean-Michel Basquiat (b. 1960, Brooklyn, NY; d. 1988, New York, NY); Mark Bradford (b. 1961, Los Angeles, CA); Nick Cave (b. 1959, Jefferson City, MO); Robert Colescott (b. 1925, Oakland, CA; d. 2009, Tucson, AZ); Noah Davis (b. 1983, Seattle, WA; d. 2015, Los Angeles, CA); Leonardo Drew (b. 1961, Tallahassee, FL); Renée Green (b. 1959, Cleveland, OH); David Hammons (b. 1943, Springfield, IL); Barkley L. Hendricks (b. 1945, Philadelphia, PA; d. 2017, New London, CT); Rashid Johnson (b. 1977, Chicago, IL); Glenn Ligon (b. 1960, Bronx, NY); Kalup Linzy (b. 1977, Stuckey, FL); Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955, Birmingham, AL); Rodney McMillian (b. 1969, Columbia, SC); Wangechi Mutu (b. 1972, Nairobi, Kenya); Pope.L (b. 1955, Newark, NJ); Rozeal (b. 1966, Washington, D.C.); Gary Simmons (b. 1964, New York, NY); Xaviera Simmons (b. 1974, New York, NY); Lorna Simpson (b. 1960, Brooklyn, NY); Shinique Smith (b. 1971, Baltimore, MD); Henry Taylor (b. 1958, Oxnard, CA); Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976, Plainfield, NJ); Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971, Camden, NJ); Kara Walker (b. 1969, Stockton, CA); Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953, Portland, OR); Kehinde Wiley (b. 1977, Los Angeles, CA); Purvis Young (b. 1943, Miami, FL; d. 2010, Miami, FL).

We wish to acknowledge, with gratitude, the 30 Americans Community Advisory Council, a group of individuals who volunteered time and talent to guide and shape exhibition programming and maximize the long-term impact of the exhibition for the Museum and the community at large.

Precious McKesson, Community Advocate

Teresa Negron, Owner, Negron Consulting

Ashlei Spivey, Associate Program Officer, Peter Kiewit Foundation

Richard Webb, Chief Executive Officer, 100 Black Men of Omaha

Felicia Webster, Creative, Poet, Educator

Gwyn Williams, Program Director, Collective for Youth

Luper Akough, Vice President, Urban League of Nebraska Young Professionals

Ayanna Boykins, Education Director, Anti-Defamation League

Arvin Frazier III, Executive Director, College Possible Omaha

Janice Garnett, Educational Leadership, University of Nebraska Omaha

Suzanna George, Administrative Assistant, Inclusive Communities

Mark LeFlore, Manager, Administrative Services, Douglas County Youth Center

Hours, Tickets, & Tours

30 Americans is open during all regular Museum hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm; late 'til 8 pm on Thursday. Closed Mondays and major holidays.

30 Americans is a ticketed exhibition:
General public adults: $10
(Thursday evening pricing, 4-8 pm: $5 for general public adults)
$5 for college students with a valid ID (tickets for those with a UNMC student ID are free)
Youth ages 17 and younger: Free
Joslyn Members: Free (Not a member? Click here to join now!

Free First Weekends: 30 Americans exhibition tickets are free to all the first weekend of each month (February 2–3, March 2–3, April 6–7, May 4–5; 10 am–4 pm daily). FINAL WEEKEND UPDATE! Joslyn is extending its hour Saturday, May 4. Come see the 30 Americans exhibition for free from 10 am until 8 pm on Saturday, May 4 (the Museum's Memorial Building will close at 4 pm as usual). A cash bar will be available in the Conagra Brands Atrium from 5 to 8 pm.

All visitors, including members, must obtain a ticket for entrance to the exhibition (no reservations necessary).

Programs with visits to the exhibition will be priced accordingly for general public adults. Docent-guided tours of the exhibition are offered on select days. Check the calendar of events for exact tour dates. 30 Americans ticket pricing applies.

What's pictured: Nick Cave (b. 1959, Jefferson City, MO), Untitled, 2008, fabric, fiberglass, and metal, 102 x 36 x 28 in., Courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection, Miami. Photo by Chi Lam.

Mobile 30 Americans

Joining Jack Becker, Executive Director and CEO, and Karin Campbell, Phil Willson Curator of Contemporary Art, on the 30 Americans audio tour are guests Suzanna George, Ashlei Spivey, Felicia Webster, and Gwyn Williams. These community members each selected two works in the exhibition and share their impressions of and reactions to them. Free Wi-Fi is available in all Joslyn galleries. Bring your web-enabled mobile device or borrow one of ours to access the dual language 30 Americans mobile tour. Presented by Joslyn and OnCell. Call (402) 881-3601 to access the tour in English; (402) 972-4031 for the Spanish language tour. Tour access information also available on site and on the Museum's mobile tour page.

Exhibition-Related Events & Programs

Friday, February 1; 5:30–8 pm

Monday, February 4; 12–3 pm

In partnership with Joslyn, Film Streams' winter repertory series, This is America, features ten films that complement the spectrum of experiences reflected in 30 Americans. The series is curated by culture writer Ira Madison III, host of Crooked Media podcast Keep It!, which garners over one million downloads a month. Madison is a television writer (most recently for Netflix's Daybreak) and has been included on The Advocate’s 50 Most Influential LGBTQs In Media and The Root's 100 Most Influential African Americans lists. His work has appeared in GQ, Vulture, Mr. Porter, among others.

Saturday, February 9 at Film Streams' Ruth Sokolof Theater @ 3 pm
This is America Repertory Film Series Kick-off

Tuesday, February 12 @ 5 pm
Omaha Table Talk: Power Structures

Thursday, February 14; 5–8 pm
Heart & Soul: A Valentine's Day Event

Thursday, February 28 @ 6:30 pm

Saturday, March 2; noon–4 pm
30 Americans Family Festival

Thursday, March 7 @ 6:30 pm

Thursday, March 28 @ 6:30 pm

Friday, April 12 @ 8 am
CreativeMornings: Inclusion

Thursday, May 2 @ 6:30 pm
Framing the Flame: Art That Ignites

Many regularly scheduled programs will feature 30 Americans-inspired themes. Check these listings for details: