Current Exhibitions

The Black Index

May 1-August 14, 2021

 Mugshot portrait of Alberta James by Lava Thomas

Lava Thomas, Mugshot Portraits: Women of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Alberta J. James, 2018, Graphite and Conté pencil on paper, 47 x 33 ¼ inches, Collection of Doree Friedman

The Palo Alto Art Center is pleased to present The Black Index, a group exhibition featuring the work of Dennis Delgado, Alicia Henry, Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, Titus Kaphar, Whitfield Lovell, and Lava Thomas.

The artists featured in The Black Index build upon the tradition of Black self representation as an antidote to colonialist images. Using drawing, performance, printmaking, sculpture, and digital technology to transform the recorded image, these artists question our reliance on photography as a privileged source for documentary objectivity and understanding. Their works offer an alternative practice—a Black index—that still serves as a finding aid for information about Black subjects, but also challenges viewers’ desire for classification.

The works in The Black Index make viewers aware of their own expectations of Black figuration by interrupting traditional epistemologies of portraiture through unexpected and unconventional depictions. These works image the Black body through a conceptual lens that acknowledges the legacy of Black containment that is always present in viewing strategies. The approaches used by Delgado, Henry, Hinkle, Kaphar, Lovell, and Thomas suggest understandings of Blackness and the racial terms of our neo-liberal condition that counter legal and popular interpretations and, in turn, offer a paradigmatic shift within Black visual culture.

The Black Index is curated by Bridget R. Cooks, Associate Professor, Department of African American Studies and the Department of Art History, University of California, Irvine. Exhibition and tour organized by Sarah Watson, Chief Curator, Hunter College Art Galleries, New York in collaboration with the University Art Galleries at UC Irvine, Palo Alto Art Center, and Art Galleries at Black Studies, University of Texas at Austin.

Lead support for The Black Index is provided by The Ford Foundation with additional support by UCI Confronting Extremism Program, Getty Research Institute, Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Carol and Arthur Goldberg, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, Leubsdorf Fund at Hunter College, Joan Lazarus Fellowship program at Hunter College, Pamela and David Hornik, Loren and Mike Gordon, University of California Office of the President Multi-campus Research Programs and Initiative Funding, University of California Humanities Research Institute, Applied Materials Foundation, Illuminations: The Chancellor’s Arts and Culture Initiative, UCI Humanities Center, Department of African American Studies, Department of Art History, The Reparations Project, and the UC Irvine Black Alumni Chapter. This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit


  • Friday, April 30, 2021--6:15 p.m.--Friday Night at the Art Center  Celebrate the premiere of The Black Index at the Palo Alto Art Center with a virtual walkthrough by exhibition curator Bridget R. Cooks, a special reading of The Black Index essay by actor and theatre professor Aldo Billingslea, a redaction poetry activity with playwright Leelee Jackson, and a concluding presentation by Palo Alto author Julie Lythcott-Haims. See the recording.
  • Friday, June 4, 2021--5 p.m.--Conversation with Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle and Lava Thomas  Join us for a special conversation with the two Bay Area artists included in The Black Index. Exhibition curator Bridget R. Cooks will lead a conversation between artists Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle and Lava Thomas about their work, The Black Index exhibition, and the role of artistic representation in acknowledging, honoring, and celebrating Black women. Watch the conversation here.

  • Fridays, June 11, July 9, and August 13 at 5:00 p.m.--Black American Art History: People, Places, and Things  In these free virtual Friday evening presentations, The Black Index exhibition curator Bridget R. Cooks will offer a thematic overview of art by Black American artists from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. Discover new favorite artists, styles, and stories in these engaging sessions. Register for the session here.

  • Friday, June 18, noon--The Black Index Publication Launch  Join the Palo Alto Art Center and Hunter College Art Galleries for a virtual book launch celebrating The Black Index, co-published by the Hunter College Art Galleries and Hirmer Verlag. This free event will feature a conversation with the publication editors, Bridget R. Cooks, curator of The Black Index and Sarah Watson, Chief Curator of the Hunter College Art Galleries with appearances by catalogue contributors Re'al Christian, CalvinJohn Smiley, Vivan Smig, and Ella Turenne. A discussion will follow focused on the Redaction font commissioned by Titus Kaphar and Reginald Dwayne Betts and featured in The Black Index with the designers who created it: Forest Young, Global Principal and Head of Design at Wolff Olins and Jeremy Mickel, Type Designer and owner of MCKL; moderated by Stephen Coles, Associate Curator at Letterform Archive in San Francisco. Watch the book launch event here.

    The publication is available through Hirmer Verlag and University of Chicago Press:

    The Black Index publication is made possible by the support of the Ford Foundation, Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, and the Leubsdorf Fund at Hunter College.

  • Friday, July 16, noon--Black Creativity and Mentorship: A Conversation Between Diana Pumpelly Bates and Titus Kaphar

    Join acclaimed San Jose artist Diana Pumpelly Bates and internationally recognized artist Titus Kaphar for a conversation about Black creativity, artistic inspiration, and the importance of mentorship. This conversation will be moderated by The Black Index exhibition curator Bridget R. Cooks. Co-sponsored by the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco. Register for the conversation here.

Peninsula Photo Contest Exhibition

June 12-August 14, 2021

From a record 995 photo submissions, the 2021 Peninsula Photo Contest is proud to present 12 winners and 14 honorable mentions submitted by locals from the 6-5-0 area code. Their exceptional work will be in the Six Fifty and Palo Alto Weekly on June 11 and on display at the Palo Alto Art Center from June 12 to Aug 14.

Hundreds of locals submitted nearly 1,000 photos for this year's Peninsula Photo Contest. You can see the captivating, thought-provoking winners in the Palo Alto Weekly, on and at the Palo Alto Art Center starting June 12!

This year, 995 photos spanning six categories set a record for the largest turnout in Peninsula Photo Contest history. Congratulations to the winners and honorable mentions!

Curled Up (Winner, Youth Abstract)_fitsonig.jpg

Tyler Wong, Curled Up, Palo Alto, CA, 2020


To learn more about our upcoming exhibitions, view our Advanced Exhibition Schedule.