Toni Morrison in China 1984, Princeton University

Professor Hilton Als Curates 'Toni Morrison’s Black Book' at David Zwirner

BY William Hutton, February 2, 2022

Associate Professor Hilton Als curates Toni Morrison’s Black Book, a group exhibition on view at David Zwirner’s West 19th Street site in New York.


The exhibition celebrates Morrison’s enormous productivity and cultural significance through archival materials and work by artists Garrett Bradley, Beverely Buchana, Robert Gober, Gwen Knight, Kerry James Marshall, Julie Mehretu, Irving Penn, Walter Price, Martin Puryear, Amy Sillman, Bob Thompson, and James Van Der Zee, among others. 


Als’s exhibition takes its name from the Nobel laureate’s landmark 1974 volume, The Black Book. Nominated for the National Book Award, the book uses documents––facsimile, artwork, obituaries, sheet music, photographs, and other ephemera––to explore Black lives and experiences, from slavery in the South to the Great Migration to post-World War II American cities. “In a sense,” Als writes in the exhibition's press release, “The Black Book can be viewed as a kind of blueprint to Morrison’s grand project as a writer, which is to tell the story of Black men and women in America as they helped invent the country.”

According to Als, “It has been an immense pleasure to work on this show largely because Toni Morrison granted me the permission to do it. Her graciousness and love of the visual arts has been my sustenance while I organized Toni Morrison's Black Book, and it's my great hope that you enjoy the atmosphere Toni's work has inspired.”


Toni Morrisons’ Black Book represents the latest in a series of collaborations between Als and David Zwirner, including the critically acclaimed God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin, in 2019, as well as Alice Neel, Uptown, in 2017, and More Life: Frank Moore, in 2021. 


Toni Morrison’s Black Book runs until February 26, 2022.


Recipient of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, Hilton Als became a staff writer at The New Yorker in October 1994, and a theatre critic in 2002. He began contributing to the magazine in 1989, writing pieces for “The Talk of the Town.” Before coming to The New Yorker, Als was a staff writer for the Village Voice and an editor-at-large at Vibe. He has also written articles for The Nation and collaborated on film scripts for Swoon and Looking for Langston. Als edited the catalogue for the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition entitled Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art, which ran from November 1994 to March 1995. His first book, The Women, a meditation on gender, race, and personal identity, was published in 1996. His most recent book, White Girls, discusses various narratives around race and gender. In 1997, the New York Association of Black Journalists awarded Als first prize in both Magazine Critique/Review and Magazine Arts and Entertainment. He was awarded a Guggenheim for Creative Writing in 2000 and the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for 2002-03. In 2009, Als worked with the performer Justin Bond on Cold Water, an exhibition of paintings, drawings, and videos by performers, at La MaMa Gallery. In 2010, he co-curated Self-Consciousness at the Veneklasen Werner Gallery in Berlin, and published Justin Bond/Jackie Curtis, his second book. Als has taught at Yale University, Wesleyan, and Smith College. He lives in New York City.