Philadelphia-based artist David Hartt memorializes Jet magazine in this photograph, Lounge at The Johnson Publishing Company Headquarters, Chicago, Illinois. We see a portion of the front cover featuring Afrofuturist musical artist Janelle Monáe. Like a fragment of a memory, the magazine is not shown in its entirety, perhaps indicating that, if not preserved, the influence of Johnson Publishing could be forgotten.
Founded in 1942 by John H. and Eunice Johnson, Johnson Publishing Co. was a leading media outlet documenting African American life and culture. Ebony and Jet magazines, two of its most prominent publications, chronicled and spawned seminal moments in modern-day black history, particularly during the Civil Rights era. The legacy of Johnson Publishing also includes the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show that highlighted black fashion designers and welcomed black audiences to an event similar to those from which they were typically excluded. Having outlets that cherished, celebrated and accurately portrayed the realities of African Americans made a global impact, paving the way for future outlets to do the same. The company’s success began to dwindle in the new millennium with the sudden rise of digital publications, a new generation of readers with differing interests, and John H. Johnson’s death in 2005.
Hartt sought to memorialize the landmark building as a beholder of the Johnsons’ legacy before the company closed its Chicago headquarters in 2010. His photograph/film project and recent solo exhibition Stray Light captures bits and pieces of its sleek, mid-century interior, eerily absent of human activity. Stray Light toured for three years, opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and ending at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. Other recent solo exhibitions have taken place at Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin; David Nolan Gallery, New York; and the Art Institute of Chicago. In the summer of 2019, Johnson Publishing’s photography archives were jointly saved and made publicly accessible by the Getty, MacArthur, Ford, and Mellon Foundations.
Born in Montreal, Hartt now lives and works in Philadelphia. Lounge at The Johnson Publishing Company Headquarters, Chicago, Illinois, is the first work by Hartt to enter the collection.