Isaac Julien: Looking for Langston
Columbus Museum of Art

In conjunction with I Too Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100, this exhibition presents Isaac Julien’s landmark 1989 film Looking for Langston alongside a selection of related photographic works. Made at the height of the AIDS epidemic in London and New York, Looking for Langston is composed of archival moving images and original footage that reimagines on the life of poet Langston Hughes and a community of gay artists during the Harlem Renaissance. The film collapses both time and geography, mixing the words of Hughes, James Baldwin, and Essex Hemphill and the sounds of blues, jazz, and 1980s house music.

While some photographic works distill the narrative of the film, others reflect upon its own making and artistic lineages. Julien’s sumptuous monochrome images consciously mine the aesthetics of black and queer histories, from James VanDerZee’s funerary and studio portraits of Harlem residents during the 1920s and 1930s to George Platt Lynes’s male nudes during the 1930s to Robert Mapplethorpe’s erotized photographs of black men during the 1980s. Foregrounding black, queer experiences within both an American and international context, the work maintains its urgency today.