El Museo del Barrio Names New Executive Director

Jorge Daniel Veneciano, who as the director of the Sheldon Museum of Art at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, increased its operating budget by 50 percent and established an African-American Masters collection, will become the executive director of El Museo del Barrio on March 1, museum officials said on Friday.

Jorge Daniel Veneciano

Jorge Daniel Veneciano

Mr. Veneciano, 55, inherits a museum with a budget of about $5.3 million that is considered a major center for Latino art and culture. But it has endured a tumultuous year that began with eight layoffs from its 41-person staff, two-month staff furloughs and a cutback in its days of operation, to four from six.

Mr. Veneciano succeeds Margarita Aguilar, who left in February. Having been the director since August 2011, she later filed a claim of gender discrimination and a hostile workplace with the New York State Division of Human Rights. Its officials dismissed the claim, but her legal battle continues with a new petition filed with the New York State Supreme Court. The museum said she was dismissed for poor performance.

In addition, the chief curator; the deputy executive director, who took over daily operations after Ms. Aguilar’s departure; and the development director have all left El Museo for other jobs. Tony Bechara, the chairman of the board of El Museo, said that Mr. Veneciano had “a broad, inclusive vision that will make El Museo a center of pride in our community and a source of cultural influence and inspiration in New York and around the world.”

When asked about the museum’s problems, Mr. Veneciano said in a telephone interview on Thursday that “it’s a pivotal moment in the organization’s history” and that the difficulties presented an opportunity to rebuild.

“I see the organization in a kind of renaissance,” he said. He added that he looked forward to filling the vacant positions and working with the East Harlem community that is home to El Museo, at 1230 Fifth Avenue, at 104th Street. He met with the museum staff on Friday.

On the positive side, the museum now has a budget surplus of $144,000, according to officials there. Its annual gala raised about $1.1 million, and the board raised $1 million through individual giving and a matching grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The Ford Foundation has also granted the museum $1.6 million over three years for a strategic plan.

Before taking his job at the Sheldon Museum in 2008, Mr. Veneciano was the director of the Paul Robeson Galleries at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., from 2005 to 2008. From 1994 to 1999 he was the curator of exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem, according to his résumé.

“He’s very smart,” Pat Cruz, the executive director of Harlem Stage, said on Thursday. “I found him an excellent colleague during his tenure at the Studio Museum. Certainly, he is knowledgeable about art history and art-making across a broad spectrum.”

Therees Hibbard, the associate director of choral activities at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, said that Mr. Veneciano formed “wonderful collaborations with different departments” during his tenure.

Mr. Veneciano acknowledged the challenges of an institution that is still sometimes roiled by questions of identity. El Museo was founded in 1969 by Puerto Rican artists and activists, but expanded its mission in 1994 to reflect the broader Latino culture. The museum’s permanent collection contains pre-Columbian Taíno artifacts, as well as 20th- and 21st-century drawings, paintings, sculptures, prints and photography.

“Puerto Rican art and culture will always be the heart and soul of El Museo,” said Mr. Veneciano, who was born in Argentina but grew up in Los Angeles. “The imperative 40 years ago was to find a place for people who went unrecognized in society,” he said. “Today, the imperative is more about connectivity.”

Michael M. Kaiser, the president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington and the founder of its DeVos Institute of Arts Management, which helps nonprofits, said that Mr. Veneciano “has vision and a real commitment to the various communities El Museo services.”

“He can assemble a team,” he said. Mr. Kaiser has been working with El Museo for the last seven months to develop a strategic plan. “It’s been a hard year, but there have been some real accomplishments,” Mr. Kaiser said of El Museo.

By   Published: December 13, 2013

Uptown, Turning Over a New Motif

For Its New Season, the Studio Museum in Harlem Pairs Artists in Residence With Established Names

Lyle Ashton Harris's 2007 'Untitled (Face #182 Senam)' and 'Untitled (Back #182 Senam) Lyle Ashton Harris/CRG Gallery, New York

Lyle Ashton Harris’s 2007 ‘Untitled (Face #182 Senam)’ and ‘Untitled (Back #182 Senam) Lyle Ashton Harris/CRG Gallery, New York

At the Studio Museum in Harlem, summer marks the culmination of a year of work by the museum’s artists in residence and the introduction of the results to the public. So it’s fitting that among the five exhibitions opening on Thursday will be “Evidence of Accumulation,” which highlights the three artists who have received a working studio and stipend from the 43-year-old uptown institution.

“It’s an opportunity to see what they’ve been working on all year,” said assistant curator Lauren Haynes. “For a lot of artists, it’s their first museum show.”

But if there is a unifying idea among the 2010-11 artists—Simone Leigh, Kamau Amu Patton and Paul Mpagi Sepuya—it is only their extreme divergence from one another. “When we choose, there is no connecting theme,” Ms. Haynes said. “The process depends on the applicant pool. We don’t say, ‘How is all this going to look together?’”

Norman Lewis's 'Bonfire' (1962) Estate of Norman Lewis/The Studio Museum in Harlem

Norman Lewis’s ‘Bonfire’ (1962) Estate of Norman Lewis/The Studio Museum in Harlem

Ms. Leigh uses ceramic to create abstract forms referencing history and ethnicity; she also collaborated on a video project with artist Liz Magic Laser and opera singer Alicia Hall Moran. Mr. Patton is a multimedia artist who combines sculpture, light and sound. And Mr. Sepuya, a photographer, specializes in intimate portraits of friends and acquaintances taken in his residency studio on the third floor of the museum.

The artists’ work will be up through Oct. 23, as will the museum’s three other summer exhibitions, the most expansive of which is “Spiral: Perspectives on an African-American Art Collective.” The show is named after the 1960s visual-art group known as Spiral, which brought together African-American artists exploring the intersection of civil rights, arts and culture. Founding members whose art will be represented in the show include Romare Bearden, Charles Alston, Norman Lewis and Hale Woodruff. A smaller version of the exhibition was created in 2010 by the Birmingham Museum of Art. Four of the 22 pieces in the Studio Museum’s show were displayed in that previous exhibit.

“We were able to expand the list of artists,” said Ms. Haynes, adding that many works came from the Studio Museum’s own collection.

Simone Leigh's 'Porcelain Roses' (2011) Simone Leigh

Simone Leigh’s ‘Porcelain Roses’ (2011) Simone Leigh

Also opening on Thursday will be “Self/Portrait,” a series of large-format Polaroid photographs shot by Lyle Ashton Harris. In the photographs, which feature more than 200 individuals captured over the course of 10 years, sitters are shot facing directly forward and backward so that the viewer sees both the face and the back of the head.

Each year, the summer exhibitions also include work by high-school students participating in the museum’s program “Expanding the Walls: Making Connections to Photography, History and Community.” Two students—Senetchut M. Floyd from the Kamit Preparatory Institute and Genesis Valencia of the Fiorello LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts—were selected to contribute to the recurring Harlem Postcards project for which, three times a year, the museum turns artists’ photographs into postcards that are free to visitors.

“In the summer, we use one of the high school students, but this year they were so good, we used two,” Ms. Haynes said.

By Pia Catton  - The Wall Street Journal  

NYC artist recognized for his unique beeswax art

A black skillet, a heat gun, pigments and beeswax take up a corner of LeRone Wilson’s art studio in Harlem.

NEW YORK — A black skillet, a heat gun, pigments and beeswax take up a corner of LeRone Wilson’s art studio in Harlem.

Lerone Wilson, a Harlem artist who creates unique sculptural paintings with molten beeswax, listens during an interview, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012 in New York

They are simple tools and materials that his skillful hands use to create unique abstract artworks in beeswax – richly textured, three-dimensional coral-like sculptural paintings in warm tones of yellow, gold and white and in metallic silver and bronze of varying shapes and sizes.

Wilson’s use of molten beeswax – called encaustic – is based on an ancient technique used in hieroglyphics. It requires a great deal of patience and control, with one piece taking up to six months to complete.

While he modestly claims he’s still learning, the 43-year-old artist is a master in its use – a medium he has applied in art for 16 years.

In December, Wilson garnered national attention during Art Basel Miami Beach, one of the largest contemporary art fairs in the country. He bested 4,000 other contestants to win the national Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series. The recognition is a result of his perseverance even in the face of hardship.

Sponsored by media mogul Russell Simmons’ arts foundation and Barcardi, Bombay’s parent company, the prize aims to give exposure to midcareer and emerging artists.

Wilson’s winning piece, “A Path Through the Sky,” is among 16 of his works that will be exhibited at Simmons’ Rush Arts Gallery in Chelsea from Thursday until March 16. Works from the only other Bombay prize winner, Miguel Ovalle, another New Yorker who creates installations out of foam core, will be featured alongside Wilson’s.

Wilson’s works will be offered for sale, from $2,800 to $15,000.

Of the thousands of pieces shown during Art Basel week, Wilson was the only artist to use encaustic, said Andre Guichard, Bombay’s national curator.

“I thought that was very interesting considering it’s one of the oldest archival mediums in existence,” he said.

There are other artists who use beeswax, including pop art artist Jasper Johns, but usually with other solvents like oils, pastels and newsprint.

“I don’t use any other salvage in the wax,” said Wilson, adding that he began using it after a friend gave him some beeswax that he didn’t want.

“It’s a fun process because it’s very sculptural,” he said.

Wilson’s technique sounds simple enough: Melt wax with resin and pigment in a hot skillet to fuse it into one solvent, then apply it using a palette knife to build up patterns and texture onto a wood panel.

“It takes a lot of technical skill for it to look this way,” Wilson said of the work hanging on the walls of the small light-filled studio he shares with another artist in a Harlem building overlooking a street of multi-story apartment buildings and older brownstones.

“You have to be patient,” Wilson said.

And you have to be quick.

“It dries very quickly. It turns hard as soon as you apply it,” explained Wilson, who studied sculpture and architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

For some of the works, he carves the wax “almost like it’s clay. That gives me different depths to the piece or different images that I want to portray,” he said.

His goal is to create something beautiful without disrupting the purity of the material.

A deeply religious man, Wilson said “A Path Through the Sky,” came as a sign from God during a particularly rough patch in his life. Speaking about it at his studio last week, Wilson choked up talking about it.

“God was telling me to let go and let him handle it. He said, ‘look up,’ and I looked up at the sky and I saw the image of what I created for the competition,” he said.

The 26-inch by 26-inch cratered white surface depicts clouds moving in a very textural, minimal direction with a 2- to 3-inch band of wax through the center designating a path.

“It came to me that we all have our different paths in life … We don’t know what today will bring, you just have to hold steadfast and get through it,” he said.

Guichard said Wilson’s story will resonate with viewers.

“There’s always a time and space where you feel it’s God’s push that keeps you going, helps you get through trials and tribulations,” he said. “‘A Path Through the Sky’” appropriately depicts that message that we can all relate to as viewers.”

It wasn’t the first time the artist faced a challenge.

Several years ago, unable to sell his work or pay the rent for a storage facility where he kept his artist’s tools and work, Wilson lived in a homeless shelter for 5 to 6 months. And perhaps worse, the contents of his storage unit were auctioned off by the facility owner.

Winning the competition was “part of God’s blueprint,” Wilson said, and the reason he signs all his work “In His Name.” It also is the title of his newest work, a 2-foot-by-2-foot square creation that has no texture but has text fused into the wax – the words “In His Name” written in marker across the entire surface.

“It’s in him I get my concepts and titles … through scripture. And this work belongs to him because he gave it to me. No one has … ever done anything else to put it in my soul and in my heart other than him,” he said.

Wilson’s work is represented in the permanent collection of the African American Museum in Dallas. Some of it is displayed on the walls of New York restaurants and he said a Chicago collector owns 30 of the sculptures. He has also been commissioned by New York interior designer Jennifer Post to create several pieces, some of which have been featured in Architectural Digest magazine.

Going forward, Wilson said he wants to continue to use the ancient organic material to create modern works of a larger scale.

Rush Art Gallery curator Charlotte Mouquin called Wilson’s use of the material “something new and refreshing.”

“LeRone’s technique is rare,” she said. “It’s got a fragility … and at the same time it has the simplicity of poetic concept.”

Online:

http://www.leronewilson.com

http://www.rushartsgallery.org

The Bearden Project, Studio Museum, Harlem

Contemporary artists mark the centenary of Romare Bearden, whose oeuvre encompasses lush sensuality and political toughness

Sanford Biggers’s ‘Martyrs of the Race Course’ (2011)

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Romare Bearden dismantled reality and then reassembled it, slightly askew, in dense, kinetic collages. His narratives, made of newspaper clippings, captured the grotesqueness of growing up in rural North Carolina and Harlem in the 1920s.

“As a Negro, I do not need to go looking for . . . the absurd or the surreal, because I have seen things that neither Dali, Beckett, Ionesco, or any of the others could have thought possible,” he wrote.

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Bearden filtered African-American life through tough 1960s activism, but he had a sensual side too; his collages bristle with clashing textures of layered paper. And there’s a lushness bordering on decadence in the late work, where patterns and washes of brilliant colour echo Matisse’s ideal of “luxe, calme, et volupté”.

Bearden would have been 100 years old in September, and the Studio Museum in Harlem has marked his centennial by inviting 100 artists to take his work as a starting point for new creations. The multifarious tribute compounds an artistic question – does Bearden still matter? – with a barrage of more probing conundrums: does being black give a young artist a sense of identity in a theoretically “post-racial” world? Do today’s art-stars pay homage to Bearden for his intuitive sense of beauty or his labour-intensive technique? Does his early political boldness outweigh his later placidity? What’s the core of his legacy, his style or his self?”

The first widely scattered answers to these implicit provocations are now on the wall (although the museum will continue to add things throughout the run of the show). A few respondents chose to integrate Bearden’s aesthetics into their own; others opted for a more imitative approach, and a third contingent couldn’t find common ground with Bearden at all, and just did their thing.

Wangechi Mutu easily grafts Bearden’s vision onto her own way of pasting together pictures of human parts. Here she musters fragments from ethnographic, pornographic and couture magazines into a cackling witch with a gaping, toothy grin, coiled in layers of puckered flesh and snakeskin. In this bizarrely beautiful collage, Mutu stays true to herself, to Beardon, and to their shared ancestors, the Berlin Dadaists and connoisseurs of the grotesque, Hannah Höch and George Grosz, who cobbled together barbarous bodies in response to the epochal slaughter of the first world war. Bearden, and now Mutu, protest other forms of savagery, with weird and abrupt changes of scale and faces chopped apart and reconfigured as monstrous masks.

Other artists stray further from familiar terrain to salute Bearden’s style. The usually austere Glenn Ligon abandons his brainy black-and-white style for an almost voluptuary nostalgia. In “Pittsburgh Memories Redux”, he’s collected flashes of mass experience into a haunting, vivid image of a butterfly. The shards are difficult to read: there are scenes of military actions, dead cows lying on a devastated beach, political slogans, jigsaw puzzles, football victories, all shredded and remade into a thing of beauty that evokes a shared past. Trauma is the chrysalis that gives birth to the future.

David McKenzie, who generally sticks to pop-oriented conceptualism and performance, has crafted an elegant, inscrutable meditation on Nefertiti. The ancient queen’s face, culled from an unusual array of reproductions, reappears upside down, right side up and sideways, garlanded by graceful body parts and beribboned with tangles of colour. The mood here is less the harsh smirk of Dada than surrealism with a smile.

While McKenzie and Ligon stretched beyond their comfort zones, others try to squeeze their usual routines under Bearden’s umbrella. Julie Mehretu’s homage “Untitled, 2011” is the same sort of watery, placid abstraction she always makes, a nest of vortices cradling a few brightly coloured shapes. Mickelene Thomas, who likes to dress up in vintage gear and then undo as many blouse buttons as she can, exposes herself to the lens four times in “Photomontage 12”, and surrounds each version with a cluster of overlapping frames. In the museum’s call-in audio guide, she hazily explains: “I learned from Bearden’s figures, and the way he constructs incredibly communicative figures with just the most sparse elements.” Thomas’s stale, narcissistic gambits are anything but communicative, and their threadbare critique owes more to Cindy Sherman’s film stills than anything by the great collagist.

Of all the artists here, only Stacy Lynn Waddell fixes her sites on the elder Bearden, who gazed contentedly at the incandescent sea and grass near the house he built on St. Maarten. In those late works, you can smell the coconuts, feel the heat radiating from sun-warmed palms, and hear the music pulsing from saxophones, double basses and singers’ throats. Wadell’s “No Place Like” sparkles with tiny Austrian crystals strewn across its surface, intensifying the shimmer of palm trees against a turquoise sky. A clipper ship hovers on the horizon, its golden sails lit up by the sun. But like Bearden’s most colourful constructions, Wadell’s Caribbean fantasy insinuates an undertone of darkness. That antique ship – is it carrying slaves sailing towards the sugar-soaked land of their nightmares? A more rigorous inspection of the water reveals that what looked like waves are actually swarms of the letter “B” (for Bearden? Or black?) branded thickly into the surface of the paper. Waddell leaves it up to us to decide whether to skim the glistering surface or delve into the depths of history and memory.

‘The Bearden Project’ continues until March 11, www.studiomuseum.org

By Ariella Budick

An Influential Citizen: ‘The Bearden Project’ at the Studio Museum in Harlem

Romare Bearden, "Prelude to Farewell," 1981 (©Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York)

It is fitting that Romare Bearden is best known for his work in collage; the omnivorous artist wrote hit jazz songs, painted, drew, and made tapestries, quilts, book jackets, and album and magazine covers. It is difficult to reduce his penchant for quoting Paul Valéry and his close friendship with Hanna Arendt, his stint as a baseball player and his study under Georg Grosz to the label “black artist,” unless, as Bearden himself did, you see blackness as a part of the American identity—an identity that has always been a pastiche.

During his lifetime—he passed away in 1988—Bearden became one of America’s most likable and popular artists and had retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery, but the Studio Museum in Harlem is claiming him as their own and celebrating what would have been his 100th birthday with “The Bearden Project,” a show whose latent thesis is the connection between the Harlem Renaissance and certain of today’s artists.

Bearden’s blackness was always second to his Americanness, and for him art was a universal language—he spoke of synthesizing his native Harlem, in N.Y.C., and the Haarlem of Dutch masters like Vermeer. He was a citizen-artist, organizing exhibitions, starting a gallery to promote minority artists, and working for the department of Social Welfare (he didn’t believe in artists teaching). He was born in North Carolina, but his mother—a political activist and newspaper editor in Harlem—raised him in New York, where he found early success and enjoyed a long career.

The Studio Museum, on whose advisory board Bearden once sat, along with his peer the artist Jacob Lawrence, asked contemporary artists to submit a work to commemorate Bearden’s influence, and the results are a grab-bag ranging from the imitative to the exceptional. The best of them meditate on the state of contemporary art, the problem of influence and the medium of collage.

Hung salon style, the exhibition resembles a mini art fair. There are new works by a plenty of current gallery stars, including Rashid Johnson, Lorna Simpson, Wangechi Muti, Mickalene Thomas, Julie Mehretu, Glenn Ligon, Kori Newkirk and Xaviera Simmons, but there are also dozens of pieces from relatively unknown artists. Apparently chosen by the artists, rather than a curator, the works produce a simultaneous sense of jumbled disorganization and democratic juxtaposition. As the show’s curator, Lauren Haynes, is surely aware, this egalitarian premise suits a Bearden tribute; in the 1960s, Bearden used his own Cinque Gallery to promote young talent, organizing omnivorous exhibitions like 1966’s “The Evolution of Afro-American Artists: 1800-1950.”

Two works by Bearden, Two Women (1969) and Conjur Woman (1964), stand in for the 300-some collages he made over the course of his career; assembled of cut cloth and paper as well as photo montage, they contain the angled lines and graphic forms, the scale shifts and surrealist juxtapositions that exemplified his style. Though Bearden’s oeuvre is rich with the repeated motifs of trains, birds and shamanistic women, he tended to stick to a palette of reds and greens, and black and white. His two pieces here, which reference African sculpture, Surrealism, Pop Art and Picasso, look as contemporary as anything made in 2011: they propose collage as a democratic mix of high and low culture, the documentary and the abstract.

And yet, the best contemporary offerings in this show sidestep obvious connections to Bearden. Xaviera Simmons’s color photo diptych, Gold (2011), is composed of self-portraits in which the artist obscures her face from view with record album covers showing Malcolm X and Nina Simone. The phrase “To be young, gifted, and black” gets directly to the contemporary legacy of the Civil Rights movement in a manner that doesn’t mimic Bearden, but is instead powerful in its plainness.

Also impressive is Meleko Mokgosi’s Big Boy (2011), a large and political tableau of colonial surveillance that transforms photographic source material into a large-scale gray print with the photographic immediacy of documentary and the narrative potential of a story. Mickalene Thomas’s Photomontage 12 (2011) is four black-and-white photographs of a woman posing as though for pinup photos for a long-distance boyfriend. They strike a pitch-perfect note that blends nostalgia, black power, sensuality and longing.

Continue

By Maika Pollack 11/29 4:25pm

Faith Ringgold: Painting, Fiber Art, Sculpture

Born on October 8, 1930, in Harlem, New York, Faith Ringgold is considered to be one of the most important living African American artists. Working in a variety of mediums including painting, sculpture, and performance, Ringgold is best known for her “story quilts” that combine narrative paintings with quilted borders and text.

Ringgold’s mother, a fashion designer and seamstress, nurtured her creative abilities from a young age. Ringgold attended City College of New York where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art and Education in 1955. She taught art in New York’s public schools from 1955–1973 and earned her Master’s degree in art in 1959. During this time, Ringgold also married and divorced jazz pianist Robert Earl Wallace with whom she had two daughters. In 1962, she was remarried to Burdette Ringgold.

Ringgold’s oil paintings and posters of the mid-to-late 1960s carried strong political messages and were supportive of the civil-rights movement. In 1970 she participated in a demonstration against the exclusion of black and women artists by New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art. This resulted in the inclusion of Betye Saar and Barbara Chase-Riboud in the Whitney Sculpture Biennial, making them the first black women ever to exhibit at the Museum.

In the early 1970s Ringgold abandoned traditional painting and began making unstretched acrylic paintings on canvas with soft cloth frames after viewing an exhibition of Tibetan art at the Rijk Museum in Amsterdam. During this time, Ringgold also began lecture tours and traveling exhibitions to colleges and universities around the United States. In 1973, she retired from teaching altogether to continue touring and create art full time.

In 1983 Ringgold began to combine images and handwritten text in her painted “story quilts,” which conveyed imaginative narratives. In 1984, a 20-year retrospective of her work was held at The Studio Museum in Harlem. That same year, Ringgold also became a professor at the University of California, San Diego, a position that she still holds today.

Over the course of her career, Ringgold has published 12 children’s books including the award winning “Tar Beach” which is based on her story quilt. As well, a book of her memoirs was published in 1995. She has exhibited in major museums in the USA, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Ringgold is in the permanent collections of numerous museums including the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Museum of Modern Art.

Retrospectives of Ringgold’s work have been held by Rutgers University, New Brunswick (1973), the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (1984), and the Fine Arts Museum of Long Island, Hempstead (1990). Her work has been included in numerous exhibitions devoted to political art, women’s art, contemporary quilts, and African-American art, as well as in the Whitney Biennial (1985). Ringgold has received many honours, including the National Endowment for the Arts awards in sculpture (1978) and painting (1989), a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1987), and fifteen honorary doctorates.

Ringgold currently lives and works in La Jolla, California, and Englewood, New Jersey. For more information, visit Faith Ringgold.com.

October 8, 2011 By Leave a Comment

American Artist Romare Bearden’s Work Honored on Forever Stamp

Renaissance Man Transcended Beyond “The Block”

HARLEM, N.Y., Sept. 28, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The artwork of Romare Bearden, one of America’s most prolific artists, is featured on a set of four Forever stamps dedicated today by the U.S. Postal Service during a first-day-of-issuance ceremony at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

“Today, we are proud to dedicate a sheet of stamps that honor a man who became one of the 20th Century’s most distinguished, important and inventive American artists,” said Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman. “Using various materials, such as foil, cut paper, and fabric, Romare Bearden transformed collage into a forceful means of expression with mainstream appeal — and in doing so, he framed the complexities of the African-American experience in a broad historical and cultural context.”

Joining Stroman to dedicate the stamp were E.T. Williams, chairman of the Board of Directors, Romare Bearden Foundation; Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, and Raschelle Parker, manager, Marketing, New York District, U.S. Postal Service.

Bearden is celebrated for his groundbreaking approach to collage along with his work in watercolors, oils, and other media. The four collages by Bearden, depicted above, and as they appear on the stamp sheet from left to right are: Conjunction (1971), Odysseus: Poseidon, The Sea God—Enemy of Odysseus (1977), Prevalence of Ritual: Conjur Woman (1964) and Falling Star (1979). Art director Derry Noyes chose a different work by Bearden for each of the four stamp designs.

Among Bearden’s early paintings were figural works recalling his childhood roots in the South, done in gouache on brown paper. His paintings of the 1940s also were inspired by literary sources such as the Bible, Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetry, and Homer’s Iliad. Bearden turned to writing lyrics for songs, including the hit “Seabreeze.” Music, in particular jazz and the blues, was a strong influence on Bearden’s art.

Bearden’s monumental cityscape, The Block, was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. His art has also been praised for depicting African-American experience in its full dimensions and is in the permanent collections of major museums across the nation. Considered one of America’s greatest collagists, Bearden was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1987 by then President Reagan.

Ordering First-Day-of-Issue Postmarks
Customers have 60 days to obtain the first-day-of-issue postmark by mail. They may purchase new stamps at their local Post Office™ facility, at The Postal Store® website at www.usps.com/shop, or by calling 800-STAMP-24. They should affix the stamps to envelopes of their choice, address the envelopes (to themselves or others), and place them in a larger envelope addressed to:

Romare Bearden Stamp
Postmaster
421 Eighth Ave., Room 2029B
New York, NY 10199-9998

After applying the first day of issue postmark, the Postal Service will return the envelopes through the mail. There is no charge for the postmark. All orders must be postmarked by Nov. 28, 2011.

Ordering First-Day Covers
Stamp Fulfillment Services also offers first-day covers for new stamp issues and Postal Service stationery items postmarked with the official first-day-of-issue cancellation. Each item has an individual catalog number and is offered in the quarterly USA Philatelic Catalog. Customers may request a free catalog by calling 800-STAMP-24 or writing to:

Information Fulfillment
Dept. 6270
U.S. Postal Service
PO Box 219014
Kansas City, MO 64121-9014

Philatelic Products
There are five philatelic products available for this stamp issue:

  • 467763, First-Day Cover Set of 4, $3.52
  • 467768, Digital Color Postmark Set of 4, $6.40
  • 467776, Diary Page and Pane, $12.95
  • 467791, Ceremony Program, $6.95
  • 467799, Cancellation Keepsake (4 Digital Color Postmarks w/Pane), $13.95

To learn more about the Postal Service’s Stamp Program and upcoming stamp dedication ceremonies, visit beyondtheperf.com.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

We’re everywhere so you can be anywhere: uspseverywhere.com

Metropolitan Museum Displays Romare Bearden’s The Block, Opens 8/30

 On the occasion of the 100th anniversary  of the birth of Romare Bearden, The    Metropolitan Museum of Art will display    Bearden’s The Block, a six-panel tableau that portrays one city block of the Harlem neighborhood that nurtured his career. On view at the Metropolitan Museum from August 30, 2011, through January 2, 2012, Romare Bearden (1911-1988): A Centennial Celebration is presented in conjunction with a multi-city centennial tribute to the life and work of this great American artist.

Romare Bearden’s embrace of an unusual medium-paper collage-set him apart as an artist. Jazzy, syncopated compositions, made with found materials such as magazine clippings, old photographs, and colored papers elevated the medium to a major art form for storytelling. In The Block (1971), Bearden used the collage medium to present a montage of images in shifting scales and perspectives that alternate between fantasy and reality. It is a world that is at once eminently recognizable and wholly unique.

The Block depicts Lenox Avenue between 132nd and 133rd streets, in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. Bearden created a colorful scene filled with human activity, much of it taking place on the street. Churches, stores, and apartment buildings provide the backdrop for various scenarios, including a funeral, children playing, a homeless man sleeping, and groups of teens and seniors socializing on the sidewalk. What goes on behind closed doors is revealed through windows and cut-aways in the walls that Bearden called “look-ins.”

Bearden’s images are both simple and complex, and layered with meanings that can be inferred from his references to other art and cultures-Renaissance painting, modern art, African tribal sculpture, and Christian iconography. In 1977 his friend the novelist Ralph Ellison wrote that Bearden’s collages created “a place composed of visual puns and artistic allusions…where the sacred and the profane, reality and dream, are ambiguously mingled.”

About the Artist

Born in North Carolina on September 2, 1911, Bearden spent much of his youth in New York City, where his parents knew the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance, including the poet Langston Hughes, the musician Duke Ellington, the artist Aaron Douglas, and the social reformer W.E.B. Du Bois. In the 1930s, Bearden himself became active in several artists’ groups in Harlem, and by the 1960s he was a central figure in the cultural life of the community, with a growing national reputation. He helped found the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Spiral group (artists supporting the civil-rights movement), and the Cinqué Gallery, a venue for emerging artists. Respected as an artist, orator, author, and social activist, Bearden also mentored many young people seeking opportunities in the arts.

Romare Bearden (1911-1988): A Centennial Celebration is organized by Lisa Mintz Messinger, Associate Curator in the Museum’s Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art.

This installation is part of the 2011-2012 Bearden Centennial celebration, organized by the Romare Bearden Foundation in partnership with the Studio Museum in Harlem. For more information about these centennial events visit: www.beardencentennial.org.

In conjunction with this installation, audio commentary on Romare Bearden’s work will be available as a stop on the Metropolitan’s Audio Guide program. The Block will also be featured on the Museum’s website at www.metmuseum.org.

Read more: http://broadwayworld.com/article/Metropolitan-Museum-Displays-Romare-Beardens-The-Block-Opens-830-20110817#ixzz1VKsJqFQg

Voices Stifled by Solidarity

Occasionally an art exhibition comes along that is more engaging for the issues it raises, the questions it prompts and the viewpoints it offers than for the artworks hanging on its walls. Such is “Spiral: Perspectives on an African-American Collective” at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Organized by Lauren Haynes, in collaboration with Emily G. Hanna of the Birmingham Museum of Art (where a smaller version of the show originated), “Spiral” features 22 works of painting, printmaking, collage and photomontage, most in black and white, by 10 of the 15 members of Spiral, a New York art collective active from 1963 to 1965.

In July 1963, anticipating the following month’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Romare Bearden invited Charles Alston, Norman Lewis and Hale Woodruff to his Canal Street studio for weekly meetings to discuss their relationship to the civil-rights movement and their cultural responsibilities, as African-American artists, to achieve solidarity and to further the cause. They took the name Spiral, which refers to the Archimedean spiral, and within weeks had grown to 15 members. Understandably, they expanded the conversation to address changes in America and in American art, including the rise of what Bearden referred to as a concentration on themes of “absurdity” and “antiart.” Apparently, equal rights for women didn’t figure highly in the discussion, as only one woman, the figurative painter Emma Amos, was invited to join the collective.

Spiral was among the first postwar groups to urge artists to promote social change—to turn self-expression into expression for the greater good of the group. And “Spiral” offers a glancing view, from the African-American perspective, of the birth and early stages of what came to be known in the 1970s as identity politics. The show asserts that disenfranchised groups need spokespeople. And it asks some of Spiral’s original questions: “Are aesthetic sensibilities specific to racial identity?” “What relationship should artists have with the social and political concerns of black Americans?” And “Is there a Negro Image?” These are big questions the show doesn’t begin to answer.

“Spiral” succeeds art historically, in that it adds a new chapter to our understanding of an influential group amid a turbulent period; and it flourishes as an exhibition about black history and racial, social, political and artistic issues, but not really as an art exhibit. That is unless you take the show as a snapshot of the social experiment that Spiral was—a mix of many conflicting styles, influences and ideologies, aesthetic and otherwise, attempting unsuccessfully to cohere. The Studio Museum’s exhibit includes several pictures from Spiral’s 1965 exhibition, “First Group Showing: Works in Black and White.” In that original show’s catalog essay, the artists stated: “We, as Negroes, could not fail to be touched by the outrage of segregation, or fail to relate to the self-reliance, hope, and courage of those persons who were marching in the interest of man’s dignity. . . . If possible, in these times, we hoped with our art to justify life . . . to use only black and white and eschew other coloration.”

This act of artistic solidarity is reasonable; and, on the surface, empathetic and metaphoric. But you realize, even in this small exhibit, that an artist’s palette is a personal thing—that color as it relates to painting has nothing to do with race; that some artists can work well tonally and some cannot. You realize that no matter how much you might want to make color political, a strong black-and-white picture will speak to the pantheon of great black-and-white artworks much sooner and more fully than it will trigger in a viewer’s mind that race—not light—is an artist’s primary concern.

There are a handful of good artworks in “Spiral,” but the best of them speak to art and express universal values that extend beyond their contemporary social subjects. Bearden’s black-and-white “Conjur Woman” (1964), a photo projection on paper of a torn-paper collage, depicts a haunting, composite figure who is surrounded by animals, and acts as a magical cave or portal in dense woods. William Majors’s striking series of abstract etchings, seemingly inspired by aboriginal art, cave painting and Wassily Kandinsky, combines ancient and modern sensibilities. Also of note is Lewis’s “Untitled” (1964), a mystical, washy oil on paper (part Color Field, part Paul Klee), in which colored light, shining from out of a dark, bluish mist, reads as hints of emerging geometry, cloud, landscape or architecture.

Paradoxically, “Spiral”—no matter what its artworks’ subjects—is an aesthetically marginal show whose pictures often come across as watered-down versions of European Modernism and Abstract Expressionism. Alston’s “Black & White #7″ (1961) reads as a weak, horizontal approximation of Jackson Pollock’s vertical masterpiece “The Deep” (1953). Woodruff’s “Africa and the Bull” (c. 1958) is a Picasso pastiche; and his “Portal” (undated) is a pastiche of Wifredo Lam. Occasionally, as in bombastic, agitprop paintings such as Reginald Gammon’s “Freedom Now” (c. 1963) and Merton D. Simpson’s “Confrontation (Harlem)” (1964) and “Untitled (Angry Young Man)” (1965), the pictures act as posters barking messages about civil rights. All of this makes “Spiral” feel propagandistic, derivative, even dated. But “Spiral” is also an exhibition whose topics remain central, even timely, to any contemporary discussion regarding the meeting and merging of art and politics, or the social responsibility of artists.

And the show speaks to larger truths. As a group, artists are as political or apolitical as any other segment of the population. An artist can be politically or socially active outside his studio; inside his studio, however, his allegiances tend toward the causes of art. “Spiral” represents a group with good intentions. But it also reveals that art is made primarily by individuals alone in the studio; that a group mentality can hinder artistic development; and that artists generally do not do well when a subject is thrust upon them—especially one as charged as civil rights.

“Spiral” reveals that here, at least, individual expression won out, and that the influence of contemporary art had more sway in the studio than did the influence of contemporary politics. Muses can come at any time and from anywhere, but they tend to be heard more easily by contemplative individuals than in and among the din of groups.

Spiral:
Perspectives on an African-American
Art Collective

Studio Museum in Harlem

Through Oct. 23

By LANCE ESPLUND

Studio Museum in Harlem Kicks Off Summer Exhibitions

HARLEM—The Studio Museum in Harlem is kicking off its summer season by looking back.

The museum’s new exhibit, “Spiral: Perspectives on an African-American Art Collective,” features works from the collective founded by artists such as Romare Bearden, Charles Alston and Hale Woodruff.

Active from 1963 to 1965, the collective sought to explore the role of artists in the civil rights movement that culminated with a big exhibition on Christopher Street in 1965.

“Some of them felt there was no ultimate role for black artists, while others thought it was to be a spokesperson,” said Lauren Haynes, assistant curator at the Studio Museum.

Ultimately driven from their Christopher Street studio because of high rent, the collective played an important role in the development of Bearden’s now-famed collage style, Haynes said.

Bearden wanted the collective to collaborate on a group project, but there was resistance because members had such different styles. Bearden suggested a collage, which was ultimately rejected but then became his trademark.

“He was thinking about collage at that moment and then started making them,” Haynes said.

Also on display is “Evidence of Accumulation,” works by three artists-in-residence at the museum. Not linked by any similarity in styles, the exhibition by artists Simone Leigh, Kamau Amu Patton and Paul Mpagi Sepuya explores the “amassing of processes and ideas.”

In “Self/Portrait” artist Lyle Ashton Harris took more than 200 very intimate sepia-toned portraits of his subjects’ faces and the back of their heads. Using a large Polaroid camera in his SoHo studio, the close-up shots explore “self portraiture, performance and intersecting communities.”

Featured in their continuing “Harlem Postcards” series are photos by two high school students. Genesis Valencia’s “Hands With a Heart” is a photo of a drummer near the Harlem State Office Building. The picture was part of a process of Valencia overcoming her fear of speaking to live subjects. After approaching the drummer, they spoke for an hour.

“The way he described drumming and his perception of life was beautiful,” Valencia said.

Senetchut Floyd’s “Faceless” is a photo of wallpaper ads at 125th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. Floyd said he passed the wall of ads while visiting his grandparents in Harlem.

“I started to like it,” he said of the wall. “Every time I passed it I would write a different story.”

In “Faceless,” Floyd depicts the faceless ad calling out for people to come and talk with him.

In addition to the current exhibitions, the museum’s free Uptown Fridays! events that open the space up to music and drinks will continue through the summer, as well as Target Free Sundays, when admission is free.

The Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 W. 125th St.

Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/20110719/harlem/studio-museum-harlem-kicks-of-summer-exhibitions#ixzz1ShW1LjNy