Saturday, June 23, 2012

African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond

Where: American Art Museum

When: through September 3, 2012

This show is an examination of African American art from the 1920s through the 1990s.  Forty-three artists' works are on display, and the overall theme of this show is art, identity and the rights of the individual.  This is a large show, over 100 works, so allow plenty of time to take this all in.

Several pieces caught my eye, including "Afro Emblems" by Hale Woodruff, which was influenced by African art, interesting I thought, as most African art tends to be sculpture or carvings, and this is a painting; "Light Blue Nursery" by Alma Thomas, I love the colors, even though it's an abstract, not usually my favorite genre, and "Thornbush Blues Totem" by John Scott, which is described as a sculpture of jazz.  Several of the pieces mentioned Native Americans, and I was reminded of the show I saw at the American Indian Museum on the intersection of African and Native Americans, now on display in New York.

There are many things to like in this show, but the organization is hard to fathom.  Granted, these are all works by African Americans in the 20th century, but the exhibit is so large, that there needs to be more sorting done for the viewer.  My first thought is that a chronological arrangement would have been good.  Older pieces first, later pieces at the end.  It would have been easy to see how African American art has changed over the years, in response to changing circumstances or trends in the art world generally.  You could also have put all of the photography together, all of the sculpture together, all of the realist paintings together, all of the abstracts together.  Then you could compare genres, to see how the expression of the African American experience is different depending on the medium of the artist.

Instead, everything seems put up in a hodge-podge manner: time periods, genre and media mixed, so that the viewer has to make his or her own organization, in addition to looking at the art.  It seems a lot of work!

Verdict: There's plenty of good things to see here - I'm glad to have been introduced to the work of Alma Thomas - but there's not much in the way of structure. 

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