This weekend I managed to make it to the Whitney to see a few exhibits, including the Romare Bearden show. There’s a concurrent one at the Met, which is next on my aesthetic agenda. I recommend the one at the Whitney highly. Its only flaw may be that it’s so sweeping that it streches the limits of focus and concentration on the individual pieces. But it does present a remarkable image of artistic evolution against the backdrop of the Civil Rights’ struggles and how one member of the Harlem Renaissance engaged it through his work.
Arthur Danto has this to say in a review of the Whitney show:
“Bearden abruptly became Bearden around 1964–a miraculous year for him as an artist, when he broke through into a mode of representation distinctively his own and entered the calm waters of a marvelously personal style that was never again challenged, from without or within. It enabled him, over the remaining twenty-four years of his life, to evoke, in his words, ‘a world through art in which the validity of my Negro experience could live and make its own logic.’ By ‘validity,’ Bearden meant, I think, that his experience as an African-American was not ruled out as a ‘subject of the artist,’ to use an expression that was current in Abstract Expressionist discourse. And by ‘its own logic,’ he meant that the experience would determine the form through which it was expressed. The breakthrough, however, has to be understood through the collusion of two moments, one art-historical and the other political.”
You can see it in the exhibition. (Also check out Adam Shatz’s interview with Branford Marsalis on the influence of Bearden on jazz.)
On the simplest, visceral level, wow, what one can do with collages!