Isaac Julien

Lessons of the Hour

Through Sep 28


Isaac Julien. Lessons of the Hour. 2019. Ten-channel 4K video and 35mm film transferred to high-definition video (color, sound; 28:46 min.) and 10 projection screens, dimensions variable. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of the Ford Foundation. © 2024 Isaac Julien. Installation view, Metro Pictures, New York, 2019
  • MoMA, Floor 2, 2 South The Paul J. Sachs Galleries

In Lessons of the Hour (2019), Sir Isaac Julien presents an immersive portrait of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who obtained freedom from chattel slavery in 1838 and became one of the most important orators, writers, and statespersons of the 19th century. Across the 10 screens of this video installation, a nonlinear narrative melds Douglass’s life and work with excerpts from several of his speeches, literary works, and personal correspondence. The most photographed American of his era, Douglass understood that portraiture could challenge racist tropes and advance the freedom and civil rights of Black Americans and subjugated people around the world.

For the first time, historical objects directly related to Lessons of the Hour will be on view alongside the work. They include albumen silver print portraits of Douglass, pamphlets of his speeches, first editions of his memoirs, a facsimile of a rare manuscript laying out his ideas about photography, and a specially designed wallpaper composed of period newspaper clippings, broadsides, magazine illustrations, and scrapbook pages. These objects reveal how Douglass’s image and words circulated in the transatlantic, 19th-century world, and also bear out Julien’s insight in Lessons of the Hour: that Douglass’s ideas about citizenship, democracy, and human dignity remain timeless.

Organized by Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, The Steven and Lisa Tananbaum Curator, with Erica DiBenedetto, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture.

Leadership support for the exhibition is provided by the Xin Zhang and Shiyi Pan Endowment Fund.

Major funding is provided by the Wallis Annenberg Director’s Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art.

Additional support is provided by the Annual Exhibition Fund. Leadership contributions to the Annual Exhibition Fund, in support of the Museum’s collection and collection exhibitions, are generously provided by the Sandra and Tony Tamer Exhibition Fund, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Jerry I. Speyer and Katherine G. Farley, Eva and Glenn Dubin, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Kenneth C. Griffin, Alice and Tom Tisch, the Marella and Giovanni Agnelli Fund for Exhibitions, Mimi Haas, The David Rockefeller Council, The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz, Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and The Young Patrons Council of The Museum of Modern Art. Major contributions to the Annual Exhibition Fund are provided by The Sundheim Family Foundation.

Lessons of the Hour was commissioned by the Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, in partnership with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, with generous support from Mark Falcone and Ellen Bruss, the Zell Family, Ford Foundation, VIA Art Fund, Lori Van Dusen, and Deborah Ronnen and Sherman Levey. The commission was also made possible by Barbara and Aaron Levine, the Maurice and Maxine Forman Fund, the Marion Stratton Gould Fund, the Herdle-Moore Fund, the Strasenburgh Fund, and the Lyman K. and Eleanore B. Stuart Endowment Fund at the Memorial Art Gallery and the Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Production of the work was generously supported by Metro Pictures, New York; the Arts Division of the University of California Santa Cruz; Lauri Firstenberg; and Eastman Kodak Company, on whose film stock Lessons of the Hour was shot.


Installation images

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