Published: September 18, 2019
ATLANTA – In an exhibition bringing dozens of Romare Bearden’s autobiographical works together for the first time in nearly 40 years, the High Museum of Art is premiering “Something Over Something Else: Romare Bearden’s Profile Series,” on view to February 2. Following its presentation at the High, the exhibition will travel to the Cincinnati Art Museum from February 28 to May 24.
In November 1977, The New Yorker published a feature-length biography of Romare Bearden (American, 1911-1988) by Calvin Tomkins as part of its “Profiles” series. The article brought national focus to the artist, whose rise had been virtually meteoric since the late 1960s. The experience of the interview prompted Bearden to launch an autobiographical collection he called “Profile.” He sequenced the project in two parts: “Part I, The Twenties,” featuring memories from his youth in Charlotte, N.C., and in Pittsburgh, and “Part II, The Thirties,” about his early adult life in New York. For the series’ exhibitions in New York in 1978 and 1981, Bearden collaborated with friend and writer Albert Murray on short statements for the pieces, which were scripted onto the walls to lead visitors on a visual and poetic journey through the works.
Inspired by the High’s recent acquisition of a key work from the series, “Something Over Something Else” is the first exhibition to reassemble more than 30 collages from the series. The exhibition design references the experience of the series’ original gallery presentations by incorporating their handwritten captions into the accompanying wall texts. The project is co-curated by Stephanie Heydt, the High’s Margaret and Terry Stent curator of American art, and Bearden scholar Robert G. O’Meally, Zora Neale Hurston professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.
“We are privileged to organize ‘Something Over Something Else,’ which honors Bearden’s legacy as one of the Twentieth Century’s most influential artists and brings important recognition to this beautiful and powerful series,” said Rand Suffolk, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green Jr director of the High.
“We are very excited to reassemble Bearden’s original ‘Profile’ project – and to experience these works along with their captions, presented in the original sequence,” said Heydt. “Bearden was a wonderful storyteller, and ‘Profile’ shows Bearden at his best, using words and images to evoke deeply personal memories.
There is poetry in the arrangement of the exhibition that feels unique for Bearden’s work and this show, which assembles nearly two-thirds of the original group and may be the only opportunity to see those works together again.”
Bearden presented the “Profile” series as his reflection on a life-path that follows the journey of migration and transition in black communities across the mid-Twentieth Century. The series is an origin story that tracks Bearden’s transition from rural South to urban North, weaving his personal history into a communal one. Beyond providing the opportunity to explore an understudied body of work, the exhibition will investigate the roles of narrative and self-presentation for an artist who made a career of creating works based on memory and experience.
Heydt was inspired to develop the exhibition in 2014 when the High acquired “Profile/Part II, The Thirties: Artist with Painting & Model,” 1981, the culminating work in the series and one of Bearden’s only known self-portraits. The collage, which will feature prominently in the exhibition, is a retrospective work in which Bearden brings together important memories and spiritual influences from his youth with broader art-historical themes that guided his career.
The exhibition is arranged roughly chronologically according to the original presentations. Thematically, the subjects range from neighbors, friends, music and church to work, play, love and loss. The works also vary greatly in size. Though some are large, many are diminutive, a deliberate choice by Bearden to convey his experience of revisiting childhood memories. In addition to the wall texts by Bearden and Murray, the galleries feature an original copy of The New Yorker article and the catalogs from the 1978 and 1981 gallery exhibitions, plus clips from the 1980 documentary Bearden Plays Bearden, directed by Nelson E. Breen.
The High is at 1280 Peachtree Street NE. For further information, www.high.org or 404-733-4400.
Unless otherwise noted, all works shown are by Romare Bearden (American, 1911-1988), and are ©2019 Romare Bearden Foundation/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
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