Toni Morrison's Black Book | David Zwirner
Image of Toni Morrison in China, photographer is unkown, dated 1984

Toni Morrison’s Black Book

Curated by Hilton Als


By the time Toni Morrison (1931–2019) conceived, edited, and saw The Black Book (1974) into print, the then forty-three-year-old writer had, in addition to publishing her first two novels, The Bluest Eye (1970) and Sula (1973), been a senior editor at Random House for seven years. There, Morrison worked with a wide variety of writers and thinkers, including Muhammad Ali, Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, poet Henry Dumas, novelist Gayl Jones, and Huey P. Newton, cofounder of the Black Panther Party. From the start of her editorial career, Morrison considered herself something of a publisher-activist, committed to bringing more women writers and authors of color to the fore. 
 
Indeed, The Black Book grew out of certain concerns she had about race and language, one being Morrison’s sense that the “Black is beautiful” jingoism of the time reduced the complexity of Black American life to a slogan. She was equally dissatisfied with academic treatises that did not get at the heart and spirit behind the culture. Taking matters into her own hands, Morrison worked, over a feverish eighteen-month period, with collectors of Black memorabilia and a graphic designer to put The Black Book together. She wanted the largely visual work to be a kind of scrapbook, or panorama, of Black American life, largely free of language and thus cant, and valuable to the young. “I was afraid that young people would come to believe that black history began in 1964,” she told an interviewer. “Or that there was slavery, there was a gap, and then there was 1964.”

 

By the time Morrison’s third novel, Song of Solomon, was published in 1977, The Black Book had been printed several times and had become a pivotal resource. Today, nearly fifty years after it made its auspicious debut, the National Book Award–nominated, seminal volume continues to exercise a great influence on contemporary artists, just as Morrison’s writing has had a great effect on readers worldwide. Indeed, one could view the writer’s fictional oeuvre as a kind of corollary to The Black Book. In her “scrapbook” and in her novels, Morrison built a grand and spacious architecture to house the visual, linguistic, and political reality of Blackness, and the sustenance, complications, and joy to be found there, too.

—Hilton Als

Image: Photographer unknown, Toni Morrison in China, 1984. Courtesy of Princeton University Library (Toni Morrison Papers, Manuscripts Division, Special Collections, Princeton University Library).

Dates
January 20February 26, 2022
Artist
Including, Anthony Barboza, Elisheva Biernoff, Garrett Bradley, Beverly Buchanan, Joseph Cornell, Robert Gober, Gwen Knight, Jacob Lawrence, Kerry James Marshall, Helen Marcus, Julie Mehretu, Toni Morrison, Chris Ofili, Irving Penn, Walter Price, Martin Puryear, Martin Schoeller, Amy Sillman, Bob Thompson, James Van Der Zee
A detail from a photo with Bernard Gotfryd, Toni Morrison, author, with her sons Harold and Slade at their update New York home, Nyack, New York, c. 1980-1987

Bernard Gotfryd. Toni Morrison, author, with her sons Harold and Slade at their upstate New York home, Nyack, New York, c. 1980-1987 (detail). Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

Bernard Gotfryd. Toni Morrison, author, with her sons Harold and Slade at their upstate New York home, Nyack, New York, c. 1980-1987 (detail). Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

“I am The Black Book. Between my top and my bottom, my right and my left, I hold what I have seen, what I have done, and what I have thought.… I am the wars I fought, the gold I mined, the horses I broke, the trails I blazed.”
 
—Toni Morrison, preface to The Black Book, 1973

Installation view of the exhibition titled Toni Morrison's Black Book at David Zwirner's New York location, dated 2022

Installation view, Toni Morrison's Black Book, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Toni Morrison's Black Book, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

A photographic reproduction by Anthony Barboza, titled Quincy Troupe, Gloria Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, Ishmael Reed, and [tbd], at the Life Forces: Blackroots VIII writers talk, sponsored by Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center, Inc and held at McMillin Theatre, Columbia University, New York, May 31, 19..., date TBC.

Anthony Barboza

Quincy Troupe, Gloria Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, Ishmael Reed, and Chinweizu Ibekwe at the eighth annual Lifeforces/Blackroots Festival of literary and performing artists, Columbia University, May 31, 1980, 1980
Inkjet print
Image: 19 5/8 x 28 1/2 inches (49.8 x 72.4 cm)
Framed: 26 5/8 x 32 1/2 inches (67.6 x 82.6 cm)
Edition of 15

“From the start of her editorial career, Morrison considered herself something of a publisher-activist, committed to bringing more women writers and authors of color to the fore.… In her ‘scrapbook’ and in her novels, Morrison built a grand and spacious architecture to house the visual, linguistic, and political reality of Blackness, and the sustenance, complications, and joy to be found there, too.”
 
—Hilton Als

 
An untitled graphite on vellum drawing by Robert Gober, dated 1993.

Robert Gober

Untitled, 1993
Graphite on vellum
9 x 12 inches (22.9 x 30.5 cm)
Framed: 15 1/4 x 18 inches (38.7 x 45.7 cm)
Collection of Pamela and Arthur Sanders
© Robert Gober

“All the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured.… I fingered the face, … picked at the pearly teeth stuck like two piano keys between red bowline lips. Traced the turned-up nose, poked the glassy blue eyeballs, twisted the yellow hair. I could not love it.… I destroyed white baby dolls.”

The Bluest Eye, 1970

An untitled mixed media sculpture by Joseph Cornell, dated circa 1955.

Joseph Cornell

Untitled, c. 1955
Doll and Diamond match box in wooden box frame
9 5/8 x 6 1/2 inches (24.4 x 16.5 cm)
© 2022 The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
A detail from a Doll and Diamond match box in wooden box frame titled Untitled by Joseph Cornell, c. 1955
Joseph Cornell, Untitled, c. 1955 (detail)
Joseph Cornell, Untitled, c. 1955 (detail)
A painting by Walter Price, titled Smoke Detector', dated 2021.

Walter Price

Smoke Detector', 2021
Oil on wood panel
16 x 19 7/8 inches (40.6 x 50.5 cm)
© Walter Price. Courtesy Greene Naftali, New York
A painting by Walter Price, titled Soul kenosis, dated 2021.

Walter Price

Soul kenosis, 2021
Acrylic, Flashe, and gesso on wood panel
36 x 36 inches (91.4 x 91.4 cm)
© Walter Price. Courtesy Greene Naftali, New York

“The men began to trade tales of atrocities, first stories they had heard, then those they’d witnessed, and finally the things that had happened to themselves. A litany of personal humiliation, outrage, and anger turned sicklelike back to themselves as humor. They laughed then, uproariously, about the speed with which they had run, the pose they had assumed, the ruse they had invented to escape or decrease some threat to their manliness, their humanness.”
 
Song of Solomon, 1977

A painting by Kerry James Marshall, titled A lithe young man..., dated 2021.

Kerry James Marshall

A lithe young man..., 2021
Acrylic on PVC panel in artist's frame
60 1/2 x 48 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches (153.7 x 121.9 x 5.1 cm)
An untitled painting by Kerry James Marshall, dated 2021.

Kerry James Marshall

Untitled, 2021
Acrylic on PVC panel in artist's frame
26 x 21 x 1 3/4 inches (66 x 53.3 x 4.4 cm)
A detail from a painting by Kerry James Marshall titled A lithe young man..., dated 2021

Kerry James Marshall, A lithe young man..., 2021 (detail)

Kerry James Marshall, A lithe young man..., 2021 (detail)

An oil on canvas painting by Bob Thompson, titled Abundance and the Four Elements, dated 1964.

Bob Thompson

Abundance and the Four Elements, 1964
Oil on canvas
8 1/4 x 10 1/8 inches (21 x 25.7 cm)
Framed: 17 1/4 x 18 5/8 inches (43.8 x 47.3 cm)
Private Collection, Courtesy Donald Morris Gallery
© The Estate of Bob Thompson and Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York
A still from a film by Garrett Bradley, titled AKA, dated 2019.

Garrett Bradley

AKA, 2019
Single-channel video, color, 8:17 mins, sound
Overall dimensions variable
Edition of 5, 2 AP
© Garrett Bradley
Installation view of the exhibition titled Toni Morrison's Black Book at David Zwirner's New York location, dated 2022

Installation view, Toni Morrison's Black Book, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Toni Morrison's Black Book, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

An archival pigment print by Martin Schoeller, titled Toni Morrison; Grand View-on-Hudson, NY, dated 2003.

Martin Schoeller

Toni Morrison; Grand View-on-Hudson, NY, 2003
Archival pigment print
24 x 20 inches (61 x 50.8 cm)
Framed: 24 1/4 x 20 inches (61.6 x 50.8 cm)
Edition of 10
© Martin Schoeller

“A longtime admirer of all the arts, Morrison had a keen interest in painting.… ’In paintings I can see scenes that connect with words for me, and I think it helps me get the visual, visceral response I want.’ One can certainly see, too, in Morrison’s post-Beloved writing her ever deepening interest in Black American life, and how it helped make, and converged with, modernism.”

—Hilton Als

 
A detail from a concrete and paint sculpture by Beverly Buchanan, titled Wall Column, dated 1980.

Beverly Buchanan

Wall Column, 1980
Concrete and paint
Overall dimensions variable
Part 1: 9 1/2 x 8 x 8 1/4 inches (24.1 x 20.3 x 21 cm)
Part 2: 10 1/2 x 7 3/4 x 8 inches (26.7 x 19.7 x 20.3 cm)
Part 3: 10 x 8 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches (25.4 x 22.2 x 24.8 cm)
Part 4: 1 7/8 x 9 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches (4.8 x 24.1 x 16.5 cm)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Mrs. Wilson Nolen Gift, 1981 (1981.8a-d)
© Beverly Buchanan Estate and Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York

“‘We could move,’ [Sethe] suggested once to her mother-in-law. ‘What’d be the point?’ asked Baby Suggs. ‘Not a house in the country ain’t packed to its rafters with some dead Negro’s grief.’”
 
Beloved, 1987

A detail from a painting titled Paradise (An Alphabet for Miss Morrison) by Amy Sillman, dated 2021

Amy Sillman, Paradise (An Alphabet for Miss Morrison), 2021 (detail)

Amy Sillman, Paradise (An Alphabet for Miss Morrison), 2021 (detail)

A detail from a painting titled Paradise (An Alphabet for Miss Morrison) by Amy Sillman, dated 2021

Amy Sillman, Paradise (An Alphabet for Miss Morrison), 2021 (detail)

Amy Sillman, Paradise (An Alphabet for Miss Morrison), 2021 (detail)

A detail from a painting titled Paradise (An Alphabet for Miss Morrison) by Amy Sillman, dated 2021

Amy Sillman, Paradise (An Alphabet for Miss Morrison), 2021 (detail)

Amy Sillman, Paradise (An Alphabet for Miss Morrison), 2021 (detail)

A work on paper in nine (9) parts by Amy Sillman, titled Paradise (An Alphabet for Miss Morrison), dated 2021.

Amy Sillman

Paradise (An Alphabet for Miss Morrison), 2021
Acrylic and ink on paper on wood panel in nine (9) parts
Overall, installed: 30 1/2 x 260 3/4 inches (77.5 x 662.3 cm)
© Amy Sillman

“Let me tell you about love.… Love is divine only and difficult always.… If you think it is natural you are blind. It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is God.”
 
Paradise, 1997

An ink and acrylic painting by Julie Mehretu, titled A Mercy (after T. Morrison), dated 2019-2020.

Julie Mehretu

A Mercy (after T. Morrison), 2019-2020
Ink and acrylic on canvas
96 x 120 inches (243.8 x 304.8 cm)
Collection of Marguerite Steed Hoffman
© Julie Mehretu
A detail from a sculpture titled New Voortrekker by Martin Puryear, dated 2018

Martin Puryear, New Voortrekker, 2018 (detail)

Martin Puryear, New Voortrekker, 2018 (detail)

A mixed media sculpture by Martin Puryear, titled New Voortrekker, dated 2018.

Martin Puryear

New Voortrekker, 2018
Ash, American cypress, maple, pine, and mirror
72 x 93 x 22 inches (182.9 x 236.2 x 55.9 cm)
© Martin Puryear. Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

“By eliminating … gatherings, travel and bearing arms for black people only; by granting license to any white to kill any black for any reason; by compensating owners for a slave’s maiming or death, they separated and protected all whites from all others forever.… In short, 1682 and Virginia was still a mess.”
 
A Mercy, 2008

A work on paper by Jacob Lawrence, titled Pool Players, dated 1938.

Jacob Lawrence

Pool Players, 1938
Tempera on paper
Image: 17 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches (44.5 x 29.2 cm)
Framed: 29 x 22 5/8 inches (73.7 x 57.5 cm)
Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York
© 2022 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
A detail from a painting titled Pool Players by Jacob Lawrence, dated 1938

Jacob Lawrence, Pool Players, 1938 (detail)

Jacob Lawrence, Pool Players, 1938 (detail)

Installation view of the exhibition titled Toni Morrison's Black Book at David Zwirner's New York location, dated 2022

Installation view, Toni Morrison's Black Book, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Toni Morrison's Black Book, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

“I used to get letters from prisoners who wanted books or freedom or money or clothes, but this one was quite different. My recollection is exactly this: Dear Mrs. Morrison, someone sent me a copy of ‘The Black Book.’ And if at all possible, I would like to have two more. I need one copy to give to a friend, another to throw against the wall over and over and over. The one I already own I want to hold in my arms against my heart.”

—Toni Morrison

A detail from Contact sheet of studio photographs of Toni Morrison by photographer Dwight Carter, dated 1973

Dwight Carter. Contact sheet of studio photographs of Toni Morrison, 1973 (detail). © Dwight Carter

Dwight Carter. Contact sheet of studio photographs of Toni Morrison, 1973 (detail). © Dwight Carter

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