Published: September 9, 2003
African American Art at the VMFA
“Generations,” an exhibit of African American art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, explores the museum’s collection of African American art from the early Twentieth Century to the present. The exhibition features half of the 60 works by African American artists in the permanent collection and includes paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings and photographs.
“Generations” also represents two distinct periods of collecting history – from the 1950s through the 1970s and since 1980. Works by local and regional artists are shown with those by artists known nationally and internationally. The exhibition will remain on view through November 30.
Photographer James VanDerZee (1886-1983) was born in Lenox, Mass. While his career spanned nearly 80 years, he is best known for thousands of images made in Harlem between the two world wars when he ran a commercial photo studio there. His sensitive portrayals of women and children illustrate his interest in classical portraiture.
As the modern city began to dominate American life early in the Twentieth Century, artists portrayed urban scenes with increasing frequency. Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) included images of subways and mass transportation in his work. An heir to the Harlem Renaissance, Lawrence worked as a painter on several federal arts projects in the 1930s. He won critical acclaim throughout his 70-year career for his portrayals of the black experience.
Benjamin Wigfall was born in Richmond in 1930. He studied at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), in Iowa and at Yale University. Wigfall later taught at Hampton and the State University of New York at New Paltz.
Sculptor and installation artist Alison Saar (born in Los Angeles in 1956) has often explored print media. Her subjects are frequently allegorical characters from diverse cultures or people from her everyday life. In “Snake Man” (1994), a woodcut and lithograph on rice paper, the bust’s irregular cropping recalls fragments of ancient sculpture. The empty white eyes add a trance-like otherworldliness, while the snake seems prepared to strike.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is at 2800 Grove Avenue. For information, 804-204-2704 or vmfa.state.va.us.
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