Frank Bowling and 5+1

In late 1969, while living in New York City, Frank Bowling organized “5+1,” an exhibition held in a classroom space at Stony Brook University, New York, with support from the university’s recently established Black Studies program. “5+1” presented work by five African American artists with whom Bowling shared an interest in the possibilities of abstraction—Melvin Edwards, Daniel LaRue Johnson, Al Loving, Jack Whitten, and William T. Williams—together with work by the British Guiana–born Bowling himself, the exhibition’s “plus-one.”

“5+1” created space for its six artists to show their work together outside of New York City’s white-dominant art world. Despite raising questions around representation, agency, and discriminatory institutional structures that still resonate today, the exhibition remains underrecognized, with few archival materials available for further research.

Bowling was intentional about organizing “5+1” in a university context. Inspired by his approach, the MFA Boston has undertaken a two-year partnership with undergraduate students at UMass Boston and advanced PhD researchers at Stony Brook University to explore the significance of “5+1”—both in 1969 and today. This project documents research, archival materials, artist interviews, and reflections generated through the three-way partnership, including “Equals 6: A Sum Effect of Frank Bowling’s 5+1” and “Revisiting 5+1,” satellite exhibitions on view at UMass Boston and Stony Brook University, respectively, in 2022 and early 2023. Countering archival absence, the materials here invite further conversation.

“Frank Bowling and 5+1” is presented in conjunction with “Frank Bowling’s Americas,” which was on view at the MFA from October 22, 2022, through April 9, 2023.

Image Gallery

These images tell the story of Frank Bowling’s early career in the United States and the genesis of the groundbreaking “5+1” exhibition.


Explore archival materials, interviews with artists associated with Bowling and “5+1,” reflections from UMass Boston students, and essays about the UMass Boston and Stony Brook partner exhibitions “Equals 6: A Sum Effect of Frank Bowling’s 5+1” and “Revisiting 5+1.”


Supported by Bridgitt and Bruce Evans, Graham Steele, and Robert Ho.