It’s fitting that the Studio Museum in Harlem is hosting Barkley L. Hendricks’s first career retrospective, Birth of the Cool, considering they also presented his first major solo show in 1980. In the span of almost three decades, the talented Philadelphia-born artist has shown in numerous galleries and museums, including the group exhibition Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art at the Whitney. Birth of the Cool examines Hendricks’s life-size portraits of stylish urbanites from the ’60s and ’70s. Using rich, bold colors, he documents the beauty and power of young African-Americans underrepresented in the mainstream, from Lawdy Mama, a 1969 painting of a woman on a gold background with an afro (it’s known as the Madonna of the Studio Museum in Harlem), to Vendetta, a 1977 portrait of a fearless-looking woman with the word “Bitch” on her tank top. Cool, indeed.

Nov. 12-March 15, 2008