Gibbes Museum of Art takes a rare look at Romare Bearden | Chroniclers
Now is a rare opportunity to truly capture the vast and varied work of artist Romare Bearden, the subject of a new exhibition at the Gibbes Museum of Art.
Some may know that Bearden was born in Charlotte and raised in New York and Pittsburgh after his family moved to escape the Jim Crow South. His home became a Harlem Renaissance hub. Bearden then raced with a host of artists from the 50s and 60s, crossing disciplines and shaking up narratives to illuminate the dark experience.
As part of this cultural groundswell, he analyzed words with big names in literature like James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes and Toni Morrison, and was a blacksmith in his own right, publishing numerous books and essays. He designed sets and costumes for choreographer Alvin Ailey. He could also artistically wear a tune, writing songs for Dizzy Gillespie. And he exchanged pictorial perspectives with Jacob Lawrence and Faith Ringgold.
Others are familiar with his collage work, widely recognized and included in the public collections of museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
But even with his prolific creative output and pivotal role among the mid-century avant-garde A-list, many argue that Bearden has yet to receive his due. Much of his work has been left out of the Bearden discourse, and this work represents a significant contribution to 20th century art.
His abstractions, including energized oil and casein paintings or kinetic mixed media works on painted cardboard, appear to have enjoyed the long-awaited 15 minutes of fame for the first time in 2017. That’s when – where Tracy Fitzpatrick, director of the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College, SUNY, in Harrison, NY, first created “Romare Bearden Abstraction”.
In 2020, when his abstract works from 1958 to around 1962 appeared at the DC Moore Gallery, Roberta Smith of the New York Times wrote: “These paintings should surprise. They are elegant and grainy works, full of spontaneous splashes, flows and streams. of painting, and they effortlessly claim a place in the history of postwar American abstraction, the division of dye painting. “
Gibbes from the start
And it all starts with the Gibbes.
The exhibition “Romare Bearden: Abstraction” launches its national tour there on October 15, where it will remain until January 9, 2022. It is the only museum in the South to show it.
It was organized by the American Federation of Arts, a nonprofit traveling organization dedicated to educating the public about the visual arts, and the Neuberger Museum of Art.
For the executive director and chief curator of the Gibbes Museum of Art, Angela Mack, the exhibition continues a trajectory at the museum, which has in the past involved curating exhibitions by black artists. It is also pursuing a partnership with the American Federation of the Arts, which in 2019 joined forces with the Gibbes in the exhibition “Black Refractions: Highlights from The Studio Museum in Harlem”.
“It takes the conversation a step further by no longer necessarily looking at who the artist is, but the quality of their work and how they contribute to the overall conversation about American art,” Mack said.
As for the newsworthy moments, she observes that this new take on Bearden, who died in 1988, deserves its place in the current conversation. She cites the surge of press surrounding the Jasper Johns retrospective which recently opened simultaneously at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The current exposure may change that.
“No one has really focused on Romare Bearden in this way before. He was an incredible abstract artist, and yet have you ever seen him among the great abstract artists of our time? end this conversation. “
Works rarely seen on national tour
This first volley of 2017 over the unruffled fence of the abstract canon now aims to push back previous hypotheses with this ambitious national initiative. And it might have the strength to correct Bearden’s long-standing failure.
“Romare Bearden: Abstraction” is expected to tour 55 paintings, works on paper and collages depicting the artist’s abstract works, many of which are in private collections that are rarely seen hanging on museum walls.
“Romare Bearden is one of the great American artists of the 20th century,” said Pauline Willis, director and CEO of the American Federation of Arts. within his work are relatively unknown. “
Get a summary
Bearden is best known for the collages he started in the 1960s that overlay fragments of memory in pieces of paper, taken from magazines, which bring together in striking forms and represent the collective experience of black people beyond the propaganda that Bearden expressed.
But just before fully engaging in collages, he got rid of specific regional and cultural references, and instead entered the realm of the abstract. Such a departure was the direct precursor of the works for which he is most associated, largely eclipsing them.
Sara Arnold, director of curatorial affairs for the Gibbes, said the goal is to show how this period of abstract painting had an influence on the rest of his career which many are much more familiar with.
“The Conservatives have tried to make those links.”
According to Fitzpatrick, who organized the exhibition, little substantive scientific attention has yet been paid to this body of work. The exhibition corrects this omission.
“The project contributes to the development of alternative scenarios around the dominant narrative of post-war abstraction while revealing, for the first time, the roots of the work for which Bearden is best known,” he said. she stated in a statement.
An in-depth opening weekend
As the exhibition’s kick-off museum, its opening weekend is particularly robust, with partners and sponsors converging in Charleston at the Gibbes to deepen this period of Bearden’s career.
On October 15 at noon, the conversation “The Spaces Between” with Fitzpatrick and Bearden, curator of the exhibition and Diedra Harris Harris-Kelley, co-director of the Romare Bearden Foundation, centers on the artist’s abstractions, which they offer our understanding of his whole body. of work and their relevance today.
On October 16 at 11 a.m., collector Walter O. Evans will join the Gibbes for an in-person presentation of their extensive collection of works by great American masters, including Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence.
“Having Walter with us is going to be really amazing because Walter knew him well. We bring Romare to life because of him,” Mack said.
Other events will take place throughout the exhibition. Through the works and the exchanges that surround them, the Gibbes is ready to move the conversation forward and forge vital new narratives. For more information, visit gibbesmuseum.org.