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James Van Der Zee was a renowned, Harlem-based photographer known for his posed, storied pictures capturing African-American citizenry and celebrity.
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He and Greenlee were of very limited means when, in 1969, the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted an exhibition featuring Van Der Zee, Harlem on My Mind, bringing the photographer and his work renewed attention.
Nonetheless, Van Der Zee and his wife still faced financial difficulties; after they were evicted from their Harlem residence, they relocated to the Bronx. Greenlee died in 1976,
and Van Der Zee was reported to be living in squalor and poor health. Art gallery director Donna Mussenden took up his cause, starting to structure his home space and organize public appearances, and the two married in 1978. Revitalized, Van Der Zee worked with a new wave of celebrity as an in-demand photographer; some of the luminaries he captured this go-around include Bill Cosby, Lou Rawls, Cicely Tyson and Jean Michael Basquiat.
In 1981, Van Der Zee filed a suit to reclaim more than 50,000 images from the Studio Museum of Harlem, the rights to which he had signed away after his eviction. The case would be settled posthumously, with half of the work being returned to the photographer's estate, and the remainder being retained by the museum and the James Van Der Zee Institute.
Van Der Zee received several accolades upon his return to the spotlight; among his honors, he became a permanent fellow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and received a Living Legacy Award from President Jimmy Carter. After receiving an honorary doctorate from Howard University, Van Der Zee died of a heart attack at age 96, on May 15, 1983, in Washington, D.C. His work has continued to be celebrated for the past several years, with special exhibitions honoring his legacy.
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They are the famous African-American artists who have exquisitely shared portrayals of historic events and individuals, cultural perspectives, and the experiences and struggles of minorities through their artwork. Examine our list of pivotal black artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, who helped to bring African-American and Latino experiences into the elite art world through his graffiti works; Augusta Savage, a sculptor and leading artist of the Harlem Renaissance, who experienced racial discrimination by an art program's selection committee; and Kara Walker, who has used paper silhouettes to depict race and gender relations.
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During the early 20th century, African-American poets, musicians, actors, artists and intellectuals moved to Harlem in New York City and brought new ideas that shifted the culture forever. From approximately 1918 to the mid 1930s, talent began to overflow within this newfound culture of the black community in Harlem, as prominent figures—Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday, to name a few—pushed art to its limit as a form of expression and representation. These are some of the famous African Americans who shaped the influential movement known as the Harlem Renaissance.
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