Monday, September 7, 2009

Lift Every Voice and Paint at Birmingham Museum of Art

New Gallery Reflects African-American Experience and Identity

The first installation, Lift Every Voice: African-American Art from the Permanent Collection, presents paintings, prints, sculpture, and photographs spanning a period of 140 years. Works by Benny Andrews, Jacob Lawrence, Gordon Parks, Radcliffe Bailey, and Kerry James Marshall, among other artists, will be on display through January 3, 2010. Although the works in the gallery will be diverse in media and subject matter, all will reflect aspects of African-American experience and identity.

The earliest work in this first exhibition is a painting created in 1865 by Robert Scott Duncanson, titled A Dream of Italy. Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, and considered a master of the romantic landscape, Duncanson painted in the style of the Hudson River School. He traveled to Europe in the tradition of 19th-century American landscape painters and overcame enormous obstacles as an African-American. A circa 1912 painting by the renowned Henry Ossawa Tanner reflects his visit to North Africa, and photographs by James Van Der Zee and Prentice H. Polk document black life in New York and Alabama in the early decades of the 20th century.

Religion and the church are subjects explored in an early Romare Bearden painting and a photograph by Gordon Parks. Works by Benny Andrews, Bob Thompson, and Radcliffe Bailey refer to music in the black experience. Other aspects of experience and identity are the subjects of work by Emma Amos, Lorna Simpson, Kerry James Marshall, David Driskell, Willie Cole, and Lillian Blades.

Jacob Lawrence’s Builders No. 1 (1971) will also be shown in the first installation. The Museum brought one of the first tours of the combined Phillips Gallery (Washington, DC) and Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY) collections of Lawrence’s Migration Series, a moving interpretation of the journey of African-Americans from the South to the North during the early 20th century, to Birmingham.

Contemporary works in the gallery include Willie Cole’s G. E. Mask and Scarification, with its modern day references to the marks of slavery, and Emma Amos’s Measuring Measuring and Lorna Simpson’s Tense, which address racism and cultural standards of beauty.

Photo credit:
"Ornette" by Bob Thompson (American (1937-1966), oil on canvas. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Junior Patrons of the Birmingham Museum of Art.


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