Published: August 16, 2011
The Mint Museum presents a retrospective of the work of Romare Bearden (1911‱988), widely regarded as one of America’s most preeminent African American artists and foremost collagists, as well as a noted writer and musician. The exhibition “Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections” surveys 50 years of the artist’s work, from his early abstract paintings to the influential collages that dominated his later body of work.
Opening on the centennial of Bearden’s birth, the exhibition will be on view at the Mint Museum Uptown September 2 to January 8,.
The exhibition will include approximately 100 works of art drawn from the Mint Museum’s holdings, as well as national public and private collections. This exhibition examines how the South served as a source of inspiration throughout his career, a theme that has not been explored previously. Among the large thematic groupings will be selections from the “Prevalence of Ritual” series, which includes many works referring to Bearden’s childhood home in North Carolina.
The exhibition’s loosely chronological structure traces critical themes in Bearden’s work, such as music, religion, social change and family, particularly informed by an African American experience. The earliest group of works, from the 1940s, focuses on his memories of the rural South, painted in tempera on brown paper and characterized by strong colors, flattened perspective and stylized, highly formal compositions. Works such as “The Visitation,” 1941, and “Folk Musicians,” 1942, depict scenes of agrarian life yet also portray universal emotional bonds.
As Bearden developed his collage technique in the mid-1960s, he made use of a wide ranges of art practices, both Western and non-Western. His use of collage, with its distortions, reversals and surrealistic blending of styles, enabled Bearden to convey the dreamlike quality of memory, and was, therefore, a perfect vehicle for recording of his memories of the South. After helping to found an artist’s group in support of civil rights in 1963, Bearden’s work became more overtly socially conscious. One of his most famous series, “Prevalence of Ritual,” concentrated mostly on southern African American life.
Works like “Baptism,” 1964, examined the changing nature of African Americans’ rights. Illustrating the movement of water being poured onto the subject being baptized, Bearden conveyed the temporal flux of society during the civil rights movement. In “Carolina Reunion,” 1975, the subject matter is emblematic of the longing for a better life and the comforting familiarity of home embodied in the northern migration of African Americans from the South during the early part of the Twentieth Century.
During the 1970s, Bearden developed a complex iconography. Drawn to “journeying things” †trains and birds †his inclusion of these recurring motifs implied a movement from one way of life to another. He increasingly used richer colors and more decorative patterns to mediate ideas about African American community and culture, as in “Of the Blues: Carolina Shout,” 1974, “Back Porch Serenade,” 1977, and “Sunset Limited (Mecklenburg County),” 1978.
Mint Museum Uptown is at Levine Center for the Arts, 500 South Tryon Street. For information, 704-337-2009 or www.mintmuseum.org .
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