Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sampling at the Mississippi Museum of Art

A trip to Jackson was the occasion to visit the temporary exhibition titled "The Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art" at the Mississippi Museum of Art. With forty works on display, it could have been called "Sampling Walter O. Evans' collection...". The permanent collection is located at the recently refurbished SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia. There are two ways of looking at the exhibition: a walk through the vast hall at the entrance of the museum, a fifteen minutes visit at the most or an in-depth look at the works and the artists in the context of the African American art movement. I chose the latter.

A dozen artists including Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Charles White, Horace Pippin, Benny Andrews were represented by a work or two and a short biographical note.
"Dust to Dust" (The Funeral), 1938 was my preferred work, a gouache on paper from Jacob Lawrence, a reminder of his skills in using colors, compositions, subjects to capture the moment and give a sense of history to a simple street scene. The display of his epic work "Toussaint L'Ouverture" made for an unforgettable visit at the NOMA in the past.

Two collages represented the other star of the exhibition, Romare Bearden, who is in the spolights lately with the celebration of the centennial of his birth. In the Summer issue of ArtNews Gail Gregg reminds us of the artist's legacy in an article titled "Beardenmania" and provides a list of all the events related to the celebration.

Artists like Charles White are remembered for their political involvement, Elizabeth Catlett, who passed away a few months ago, for her social engagement. She was represented by an iconic sculpture in bronze "Black Women Poets", 1984 and one print "Head of a Nigerian", 1976.

If I had not seen works from Benny Andrews at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in the past, I would have gone by without noticing a small painting, not one of his bests. Abstraction was represented by one oil on paper from Norman Lewis, "Untitled" 1975, a blue composition.
Lois Mailou Jones was present, in the background with two watercolors, seascapes.  The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts  just presented a survey of her career "Lois Mailou Jones: A Life in Vibrant Color" with fifty five works. I had a chance to go through and discover the artist I did not know before.

The names of the artists echoed terms like Harlem Renaissance, activism, militancy, identity, protests... a period which paved the way for the next generations of African American artists and I would refer to the recently released book from Bridget R. Cook " Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum" to place their works in their historical context.

photograph by the author:
"Caribbean Forest", 1977, Romare Bearden