Photo by Richard Avedon. James Baldwin, Harlem, New York, c. 1945

Free admission (all visitors, all hours)

The recent revival of interest in author James Baldwin (1924–1987), the subject of God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin,” has been particularly intense. This is in part due, of course, to his ability to analyze and articulate how power abuses through cunning and force and why, in the end, it’s up to the people to topple kingdoms. As a galvanizing humanitarian force, Baldwin is now being claimed as a kind of oracle. But by claiming him as such, much gets erased about the great artist in the process, specifically his sexuality and aestheticism, both of which informed his politics. In “A Walker in the City,” the first part of the exhibition, we see the young Baldwin, a Harlem-born flaneur, traversing two great cities: Paris, capital of the nineteenth century, and New York, undisputed ruler of the twentieth. In this section, which includes the first public exhibition of a number of letters and books by Baldwin, we also see work the writer inspired by the legendary painter Beauford Delaney, and photographer Richard Avedon, among other artists. In “A Walker in the City,” we not only get to view the author as a body, but also as an object of fascination and love. The second part of God Made My Face, titled “Colonialism,” shows how Baldwin was gradually colonized by his post–Fire Next Time (1963) fame, while it celebrates the kind of work he would be doing if he had been given permission to be the complete artist he longed to be. In “Colonialism,” Kara Walker contributes a film that in many ways anticipates the kind of work Baldwin would have made had he been a filmmaker—ideas he shared in his 1960 profile of Ingmar Bergman. On view at David Zwirner Art Gallery until February 16, “God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin” is a group exhibition curated by Hilton Als, which features works by Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Alvin Baltrop, Beauford Delaney, Marlene Dumas, Ja’Tovia Gary, Glenn Ligon, Alice Neel, Cameron Rowland, Kara Walker, and James Welling, among other artists.