Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Rising Up: Hale Woodruff's Murals at Talladega College

Where: National Museum of American History

When: through March 1, 2015

In the East wing of the 2nd floor, a space is reserved for exhibits from the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.  Over the past several years, they have put up about half a dozen different shows, and each has been excellent.  I don't mean good, or interesting or worth the trip; I mean excellent - a cut above the ordinary show.  If this is the caliber of display we can expect when the NMAAHC opens in 2016, we are in for a real treat.  I wish I knew the names of the curators of these shows so I could compliment them by name - whoever you are, you're doing great work.

The current show is an exhibit of murals by Hale Woodruff, a 20th century African American artist.  The colors are wonderful, and each work (there are six in total) is full of action.  There's a sinuous quality to his brushstrokes that gives the pieces a sense of power and strength, and they are large enough that you feel part of the action, even just standing and looking.

This is most true of the first piece, pictured here, The Mutiny, which is a painting of the takeover of The Amistad by the Africans aboard.  Brute force is depicted, not just in the men fighting, but in the waves in the background and the sugarcane that litters the deck.  Woodruff shows the rage of the mutineers, fighting for their freedom from bondage and the terror of the crew, fighting for their lives.  It's a powerful work, both in the subject matter and in the technique used to bring it to life.

The other two painting in the Amistad group are here, along with the three works that make up the "Founding" series; murals depicting the origins of Talladega College.  The vivid color scheme, the sensitive expressions of the principal characters, the sense of action, of lots going on, are present in all of the works.

In addition, others items useful in interpreting the main works and Woodruff's life and work are also on display.  One of them is a Life magazine article, featuring a picture of Woodruff taken by Eliot Elisofon, the subject of a show at the Museum of African Art not long ago.

The curators of this space set a high bar, and they've met it yet again.

Verdict: A very fine exhibit - do not miss.

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