Following the tumultuous 1960s, which ushered in new victories in civil rights, the 1970s was a decade of firsts in American society, and particularly in black culture. Many major American cities elected African-American mayors for the first time, and in 1972 Shirley Chisholm became the first black person and the first woman to run for the presidential nomination of a major party. The early 1970s was also a moment of transition in the art world, as black artists including Alma Thomas, Melvin Edwards and Richard Hunt received exhibitions at mainstream New York art museums. For The Studio Museum in Harlem, the 1970s was the first full decade of operation, when the institution laid the foundations for much of its work today.

Documenting, evoking and reflecting upon this key decade in black culture and history, "Circa 1970" presents paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and sculpture made between 1970 and 1979, all drawn from the Studio Museum’s collection. The exhibition features works by two dozen artists, including Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, McArthur Binion, Robert Blackburn, Elizabeth Catlett-Mora, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Ed Clark, Beauford Delaney, Samuel Fosso, David Hammons, Sam Gilliam, Senga Nengudi, Betye Saar, Malick Sidibé and Frank Stewart. Among them are recent gifts of art made to the Studio Museum’s collection, including works by Binion, Blackburn and Hammons, evidence of the relationships that began during this rich decade and that continue today.

"Circa 1970" is organized by Lauren Haynes, former Associate Curator, Permanent Collection, at The Studio Museum in Harlem and now Curator, Contemporary Art, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.