Try This: 30 Americans at the Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia, SC

Art curator gesturing towards three statues inside an art exhibit
Columbia Museum of Art Curator Catherine Walworth explaining the meaning behind Nick Cave’s “Soundsuits”, part of the 30 Americans exhibition | Photo by the CHStoday team

Kayla here, and I recently got to return to one of my favorite places in downtown Columbia, SC, the Columbia Museum of Art, to check out their newest exhibition: 30 Americans.

This stunning collection, which has been traveling the country since 2011, is making its SC debut at the CMA. Featuring 54 works from 30 contemporary Black artists — like Lorna Simpson, Nick Cave, and Kehinde Wiley — this not-to-be-missed exhibition will be on display throughout fall (read: a perfect time to visit Columbia), until Jan. 17, 2022.

What we tried: 

I took an illuminating tour led by CMA Curator Dr. Catherine Walworth, who has put years of work into making this iteration of 30 Americans happen. 

Before the tour began, we were welcomed by Executive Director Della Watkins, who thanked the exhibition’s sponsors. Thanks to Bank of America, for example, college students will receive free admission to 30 Americans throughout its run.

What not to miss:

A variety of mediums make up the artwork in 30 Americans, from painting to sculpture to photography to assemblage (think: the 3D version of collage).

Mixed media collage hanging on the wall
This piece by Mark Bradford is a mixed-media collage on canvas, created in 2006 | Photo by the CHStoday team

One of the most exciting parts of checking out a brand new exhibition is seeing how it’s organized, and 30 Americans’ flow does not disappoint. 

Each of CMA’s 6 downstairs galleries — which all house the exhibition — has a theme, like “Movin’ On Up.” This gallery features art inspired by 1970s depictions of African American culture in mainstream media, like this series by Hank Willis Thomas featuring period advertisements with the text removed:

6 framed paintings hanging on the wall
Selections from the first “Unbranded” series by Hank Willis Thomas | Photo by the CHStoday team

What we’re still talking about: 

Taking a tour with the curator herself was a treat. Catherine Walworth’s knowledge is matched only by her evident passion for the art, and it’s contagious (the good kind).

Tour group looking around art exhibit while being led by tour guide
Our tour group hung on Catherine’s every word as we moved through the galleries | Photo by the CHStoday team

You can keep an eye out for public tours and panel discussions on the CMA’s events page. We also highly recommend the Multimedia Gallery Tour to hear from a range of experts. Strolling through the galleries and quietly taking it all in more your thing? That’s great too.

Art curator standing in front of wall full of artwork
“Wigs (Portfolio)” by Lorna Simpson features lithograph portraits on felt | Photo by the CHStoday team

How you can experience this: 

30 Americans will be on display through Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 17, 2022), so you have plenty of time to plan your visit. Pro tip: This may be one you want to check out twice — I’ve already been back, and I may just go again. In the meantime, you can check out our visit on our Instagram Story.

Things to know if you go: