All quotes fby Romare Bearden and biographical information are displayed in the exhibit.
The first piece of art I ever liked was “Sunday morning breakfast.” When I was five, my parents brought home the 1967 Romare Bearden print from their trip to the Museum of Modern Art and placed it in my bathroom (the powder room in our house) . I wanted a flower painting, or at least a pink retilage, but no. They gave me an abstract collage featuring a variety of characters with big heads, a meat smoker, and a background of glued pieces of paper. I made up stories about the people and places I saw. Bearden’s work has left hundreds of questions unanswered, and over time I’ve come to love him.
Today, more than 10 years after I first met Bearden and 34 years since his passing, his work continues to inspire and spark curiosity around the world. Between 1962 and 1964, his exploration in abstract watercolor and collage developed his famous style which had a huge impact on African American cultural art and abstract expressionism. The work has rarely been exhibited since its publication.
Through collaboration between Neuberger Museum curator Tracy Fitzpatrick and Ozi Uduma, curator of global contemporary art at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Bearden’s work is displayed on the university’s campus. . “Romare Bearden, Abstraction” brings pieces from before, after and during his largely unexplored era of abstract art. The exhibit, arranged in chronological order, shows the evolution of Bearden’s art. These works, which are the foundations of my love for art, forever marked Bearden’s style and abstract expressionism as a whole.
As I entered the huge bright gallery with rainbow letters reading “ABSTRACTION”, I felt like a little child again.
Curators organized Bearden’s works into his eras of life and inspiration, beginning with “Early Artistic Training”, which consisted of watercolors and inks. Bearden, creating a distinctly individual style, drew inspiration from stained glass, the Cubist movement and biblical traditions. Works like “Christ washes the feet of his disciples‘, a unique interpretation of a biblical scene, show a clear influence on Bearden’s later art.
As his work developed, his education played a more critical role. The next section of his work, “Growing up in Harlem”, is accompanied by a explanation of his life grew up during the Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance. However, the notes also highlight the gang violence that overshadowed Bearden’s life in Harlem and how he preferred his youth in the American South. We see his first abstract works exhibited to the public, a series of mosaic-style collages. The colors and textures of scraps of paper, inks, newspapers and paint create an intricate image that one could stare at for hours.
After his move to Paris, we see Bearden’s early efforts in oil painting culminate in an era called “Finally, Oil”. Here we find that Bearden was not comfortable with oil until the late 1950s, when Mr. Wu, owner of a local bookstore, taught him chinese writing and ink painting. During this time, Bearden experimented with large-scale works featuring casein, microscopy, diluted oil washes, and calligraphy. In “With Blue“, Bearden shows a stunning abstraction of the natural world through the marbling, collage, collage and layering of multiple oil paintings.
The next exhibition, “Projections,” shows Bearden’s 1964 project of tiny detailed collages and larger projected works. The projections of these small collages created figures with strange scales that intrigued me when I was a child. This era shows his experimentation with other people’s media, with almost exclusively extracts from magazines and newspapers. Bearden’s complex urban scenes like “spring path” draw viewers into a new world of black and white contrasts and unusual proportions.
Leaving the exhibition, you leave Bearden’s world of abstraction and enter an era called “Politics of Abstraction”. After the socially tumultuous year of 1963, a year of great tragedy and transformation for African-American artists and activists, Bearden “felt that the Negro was becoming too much of an abstraction” and sought to represent the African-American experience figuratively. He returned to his 1940s focus on South African-American storytelling and culture. He pieced together small abstract collages into large-scale works that told stories of his youth in the South. This is illustrated in the famous “Fried fishwhich features a detailed and colorful pasted scene and abstract background. This era is filled with color, complexity and storytelling, and is a great conclusion to the exhibition.
No matter how much of Bearden’s work we see, his art leaves us with thousands of questions. These eternal questions remind us that art will always be subject to interpretation and remind me why I love art.
The exhibition on abstraction by Romare Bearden will be at UMMA from February 5 to May 15, 2022.
Daily arts writer Kaya Ginsky can be reached at [email protected]