Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Romare Bearden at the Museum of the African Diaspora

I am so psyched for this one. First of all, I love Bearden's collage work. It's utterly unique as well as being graphically beautiful and politically powerful. He redefined the image of humanity not in terms of “the black experience,” but black experiences—rural and urban, African, American, and Caribbean.

Secondly, Dr. Jacqueline Francis, one of the best art history professors that I have ever had will be lecturing at MoAD on Saturday (2PM) and I can't wait. I am going to sit in the front row, grin from ear to ear and ask a lot of questions - just like I did when I was in her class. She's not only an expert on Bearden, she's funny, vivacious and has a great sense of humor.  I know that the lecture will be both informative and enjoyable. When I started writing for the Examiner.com, I asked her to click on my page so that I could make enough for at least "one happy meal" per month. I will have to tell her that I've progressed to two and sometimes three happy meals per month!

Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bearden studied at Boston University before receiving his BS in Education from New York University in 1935. The following year, he attended the Art Students League, where he studied with George Grosz. From 1933 to 1937, Bearden also worked as a cartoonist, publishing drawings in The Crisis (the journal of the NAACP) and the Baltimore-based Afro-American. During World War II, he served in the US Army and then used funding from the GI Bill to study art history and philosophy at the Sorbonne. Bearden’s achievements as an artist were matched only by his energy as a scholar and arts activist at a time when art history was defined almost exclusively in terms of whiteness.

While Bearden’s early work consisted of figural paintings inspired by the social realism that dominated the 1930s, a trip to Paris in 1950 inspired him to move closer to abstraction. In the early 1960s, he turned to collage in “an attempt to redefine the image of man in terms of the black experience.” Cutting and pasting photographs, paper, fabric, newspaper, and magazines, Bearden often added gouache, ink, pencil, and oil to his kaleidoscopic surfaces, creating dazzling compositions that focused on themes as expansive as his own talent.

 Bearden believed that “art is made from other art.” This idea is literally present in the act of collage-making—taking images, colors, and forms out of one context, altering them, and juxtaposing them with other pre-existing images, colors, and forms to create something new. But it is equally apparent in Bearden’s celebration of jazz and blues, the inspiration he drew from African art, and his passion for telling the stories and representing the cultures of ordinary black Americans.

He was a founding member of Spiral group (1963), a co-founder with Norman Lewis and Ernest Crichlow of the Cinque Gallery (1969)—a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of work by artists of color—and an active founding member of the Studio Museum in Harlem (1968). In 1970, Bearden became one of the fifty founding members of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, established to “define, preserve, promote, and develop the arts and letters of black people.” 

 Romare Bearden lived and worked in New York City until his death in 1988. During his lifetime, he was the subject of multiple exhibitions and the recipient of numerous honors. In 1990, the Romare Bearden Foundation, New York, was established to preserve the legacy of the artist. In 2003, the National Gallery of Art organized The Art of Romare Bearden, a major retrospective that firmly cemented his legacy as one of the great innovators of the twentieth century. His work is represented in prestigious institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Whitney Museum of Art.

Opening Friday, May 6th at the MOAD: http;//www.moadsf.org

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