Modern art shines in BMA’s spring exhibitions

If you haven’t seen the Richard Yarde exhibit on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) yet, you still have a few weeks to visit. Richard Yarde: Beyond Savoy will be on view until April 24, and I urge you to catch it while you can. The BMA, which sits adjacent to the Homewood campus, offers free admission and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., although admission requires a timed reservation.

Yarde’s work was first shown at the BMA in 1983. The current exhibition explores his transformation over the past 40 years, incorporating nearly 30 pieces from this period. Her art celebrates black history and culture by drawing inspiration from black photographers and European post-impressionists and fusing these traditions with her experience growing up in Boston’s diverse Roxbury neighborhood.

Unlike most watercolor creations, which tend to be small, Yarde’s paintings are large and occupy the walls of the BMA’s gallery. He uses vibrant colors – bright yellows, rich blues, deep reds – to produce a sense of dynamism that characterizes his collection. The characters, although frozen in time, exude a palpable energy; as a viewer you can feel their movement transcending the frame.

Yarde painted monumental black figures as subjects, furthering the esteem he developed for black culture and history. Some notable portraits on display now include those of Malcolm X and Sojourner Truth, although Yarde also painted ordinary individuals like his Roxbury neighbors and even produced a few self-portraits.

My favorite piece in the exhibition is Ella Fitzgerald at the Savoy. The Savoy Ballroom, to which the title of the exhibit alludes, is located in Harlem, New York and served as a hub for music and dance. Through rich colors and textured brushstrokes, Yarde captures the liveliness of Savoy and pays homage to one of my favorite jazz musicians, Ella Fitzgerald. I also like the bright yellow coloring of The mirrora close second favorite.

Yarde’s collection becomes even more impressive in light of his approach to painting. Despite his notoriety as the most unforgiving medium, Yarde skillfully manipulates his watercolor strokes, constructing scenes full of energy. What stands out about Yarde’s method is the fact that he does not rely on any preliminary sketches, choosing instead to paint freehand from start to finish. This process leaves no room for error, and Yarde’s admirable ability to create images on the spot stands out.

Switching gears, might as well visit another exhibit while you’re at the BMA anyway. I advise you to go down to see Matisse: the sinuous linealso on display until April 24. Henri Matisse’s minimalist artwork perfectly complements Yarde’s dynamic imagery, offering a comprehensive experience of modern art in a single visit.

Through this collection of small sketches and bronze sculptures, Matisse explores the elegance of the female body. He draws in pen on paper, effortlessly conveying his subjects and evoking simplicity using few fine strokes. Her monochrome bronze sculptures, which I personally adore, also soften the female body. Capturing her curvature, their inclined and open postures express feminine sensuality.

Some of the works on display may look familiar, and for good reason: fine line art, influenced by Matisse, has become a popular inspiration for tattoos, dorm tapestries and wallpaper. I myself am drawn to Matisse’s minimalist and abstract representation of the body; blue nude has long served as a screen saver for my iPhone.

Together, these two exhibitions reflect the diversity of modern art in terms of style, medium, subject matter and more. On the one hand, Yarde uses watercolors to paint dynamic subjects that celebrate black history and culture. On the other hand, Matisse offers a simplified understanding of the female body and its fluidity.

These two exhibitions Richard Yarde: Beyond Savoy and Matisse: the sinuous line, are on view until the end of the semester, leaving plenty of time to see them. I encourage you to spend your next Saturday afternoon or vacation day at the nearby BMA, reflecting on the themes featured in these collections and the techniques used by their respective creators. Visiting the BMA is easy and free; don’t forget to book your ticket in advance!

About Bernice D. Brewer

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