Richard J. Powell

Richard J. Powell

John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History


  • Ph.D., Yale University 1988

  • M.Phil., Yale University 1984

  • M.A., Yale University 1982

  • M.F.A., Howard University 1977

  • B.A., Morehouse College 1975


Richard J. Powell is John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art & Art History at Duke University, where he has taught since 1989.  He studied at Morehouse College and Howard University before earning his doctorate in art history at Yale University.  Along with teaching courses in American art, the arts of the African Diaspora, and contemporary visual studies, he has written extensively on topics ranging from primitivism to postmodernism, including such titles as Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson (1991), Black Art: A Cultural History (1997 & 2002), and Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture (2008).


African American art, African art, art of the United States


Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture
Examining portraits of black people over the past two centuries, Cutting a Figure argues that these images should be viewed as a distinct category of portraiture that differs... read more »

Powell, RJ. African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond. Washington, DC: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2012.

Powell, RJ. Ras Ishi/Secret Diaries. Miller Publishing Company, Ltd., 2009.

Powell, RJ. Who Am I in This Picture? Amherst College Portraits. Amherst College, 2009.

Powell, RJ. Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture. University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Powell, RJ. Circle Dance: The Art of John T. Scott. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2005. (Exhibition Catalog)

Powell, RJ. Black Art: A Cultural History. London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 2002.

Powell, RJ. Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow. Atlanta: High Museum of Art, 2002. (Exhibition Catalog)

Powell, RJ. To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999. (Exhibition Catalog)

Powell, RJ. Jacob Lawrence. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1992.

Powell, RJ. Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson. New York: W. W. Norton, 1991.


Powell, RJ. ""Porch and Drawl"." Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art. Ed. Lash, M and Schoonmaker, T. Durham, North Carolina.: Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. 2016. 106-119. (Essay)

Powell, RJ. ""Wounded Zouave and the Cyrenian Paradigm"." The Civil War in Art and Memory. Ed. Savage, K. Washington, D.C..: National Gallery of Art. 2016. 65-80. (Essay)

Powell, RJ. ""I Talismani di Betye Saar"." Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer. Ed. Marinetti, M. Milano, Italy.: Fondazione Prada. 2016. 233-241. (Essay)

Powell, RJ. ""Les ames illustrees: W. E. B. Du Bois dans l'art contemporain"." The Color Line: Les Artistes Africains-Americains et La Segregation. Ed. Soutif, D. Paris, France.: Flammarion. 2016. 74-85. (Essay)

Powell, RJ. "Probability Theory: David Hammons's Money Tree." Open This End: Contemporary Art from the Collection of Blake Byrne. Ed. Joseph R. Wolin. Los Angeles, CA: The Skylark Foundation, 2015. 42-49. (Essay)

Powell, RJ. ""Dem Shoes": Thomas Hart Benton's Romance." American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood. Ed. A Bailly. Munich: Delmonico Books - Prestel, 2015. 83-87. (Essay)

Powell, RJ. "Walking on Water: Embodiment, Abstraction, and Black Visuality." Represent: 200 Years of African American Art in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Ed. Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw. Philadelphia, PA, 2014. 1-19.

Powell, RJ. "New Negroes, Harlem, and Jazz (1900-1950)." The image of the black in western art. Ed. D Bindman and HL Gates. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014. 53-104. (Chapter)

Powell, RJ. ""Foreword: Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Devotional Memorial"." Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial. Ed. S Greenough and N Anderson. Yale University Press, 2013. xv-185.

Powell, RJ. ""Tanner and Transcendence"." Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit. Ed. AO Marley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. 56-65.


Powell, RJ. "Who’s Zoomin’ Who?: The Eyes of Donyale Luna." Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art 2016.38-39 (November 2016): 14-21. Full Text

Oliver, VC, and Powell, RJ. ""Richard Powell/'Say it Loud': An Interview with Richard Powell by Valerie Cassel Oliver"." Callaloo 38.4 (2016): 985-995. (Interview)

Powell, RJ. "Emancipation and the Freed in American Sculpture." ART BULLETIN 95.4 (December 2013): 646-649.

Powell, RJ. "Freeman Henry Morris Murray: Emancipation and the Freed in American Sculpture." The Art Bulletin 95 (December 2013): 646-649.

Powell, RJ. "The Woodshed." STUDIES IN THE HISTORY OF ART 71 (2011): 199-206.

Powell, RJ. "'Paint That Thing!' Aaron Douglas's Call to Modernism." American Studies 46 (2010): 107-119.

Powell, RJ. "The Picturesque, Miss Nottage and the Caribbean Sublime." Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 25 (February 2008): 157-168.


Powell, RJ. "Linguists, Poets, and ‘Others’ on African American Art." American Art 17 (March 2003): 16-19. (Academic Article)


Sonia Boyce: Crop Over. Curator. (2011)

Embodied: African American Images in Contemporary Art. Creator. (2010)


"Embodied: African American Images in Contemporary Art", September, 2010, David C. Driskell Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD

Back to Black: Art, Cinema and the Racial Imaginary. Curator. (2005)


Back to Black: Art, Cinema and the Racial Imaginary, 2005, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, England & Walsall Art Gallery, Birmingham, England

Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow. Curator. (2002)


Toured nationally

To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities: The Digital Exhibition. Curator. Huffington Post Black Voices (2000)


30 page manuscript and recorded narration of the virtual exhibition tour (at

Rhapsodies in Black: Music and Words from the Harlem Renaissance. Consultant, Curator. (2000)


10 page manuscript, essay, and “creative consultant” for a CD box set, Rhino Records R2 79874

Selected Grants

Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professorship awarded by National Gallery of Art (Principal Investigator). 2019

(98-0601) Beyond Mere Likeness: Protraits from Africa and African Diaspora awarded by Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation (Principal Investigator). 1998 to 1999

Fall 2019

African American Art (ARTHIST 283.01)
Smith Wrhs A266, MW 08:30 AM-09:45 AM
The Black Atlantic (ARTHIST 383.01)
Smith Wrhs A290, MW 01:25 PM-02:40 PM

Fall 2018

African Art: Court/marketplace (ARTHIST 345.01)
Smith Wrhs A266, MW 10:05 AM-11:20 AM
Perform Gender/exhibit Race (VMS 512S.01)
Smith Wrhs A290, W 01:25 PM-03:55 PM

Spring 2018

African American Art (ARTHIST 283.01)
Smith Wrhs A266, TuTh 10:05 AM-11:20 AM
Black Visual Theory (VMS 555S.01)
Smith Wrhs A290, Th 03:05 PM-05:35 PM

Spring 2017

Art of the US (ARTHIST 384.01)
Smith Wrhs A266, TuTh 10:05 AM-11:20 AM
Outsiders and Insiders (ARTHIST 715S.01)
Smith Wrhs A290, Th 01:40 PM-04:10 PM

Fall 2015

African American Art (ARTHIST 283.01)
East Duke 209, WF 10:05 AM-11:20 AM

Fall 2014

Black Visual Theory (VMS 555S.01)
East Duke 204A, M 03:05 PM-05:35 PM

Spring 2014

The Black Atlantic (ARTHIST 383.01)
East Duke 108, TuTh 03:05 PM-04:20 PM
Art of the US (ARTHIST 384.01)
East Duke 204B, TuTh 10:05 AM-11:20 AM