Verso: Race Matters Events, Digital Archive Releases, Oral Histories, and Related Exhibitions

September 2023

Race Matters: Cultural Politics in the 1960s

The 1960s was a tumultuous moment in American history, as racial equality movements propelled sweeping changes to the body politic. This webinar series presents new insights into how Bearden and his contemporaries tackled Black subject matter and racial themes in their work. It will also explore how racial concerns were articulated during this watershed decade. 

Tomorrow, I May Be Far Away 

During the 1960s and 1970s, Romare Bearden’s art was revered as exemplary of American and Black art in institutional contexts delineated by race. Prof. Bridget R. Cooks addresses Bearden’s ability to engage the Black and mainstream art worlds during this important political era.

Bridget R. Cooks is a scholar and curator of American art. She serves as Chancellor’s Fellow and Professor of African American Studies and Art History at the University of California, Irvine. She is most well-known as the author of the book, Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum (2011).

Image caption: Romare Bearden, Tomorrow I May Be Far Away (1966-7) © Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Romare Bearden, the South, and the Southern Black Arts Movement

Bearden described the South as the “homeland of my imagination.” In this talk, Prof. James Smethurst considers the impact of Bearden and his work on the Black Arts Movement in the South during the 1960s and 1970s. 

James Smethurst is a Professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is the author of The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930-1946The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970sThe African American Roots of ModernismBrick City Vanguard: Amiri Baraka, Black Music, Black Modernity; and Behold the Land: A History of the Black Arts Movement in the South. His current book project studies the interchange between the Black Arts Movement in Britain and the United States. 

Image caption: Jim Alexander, Romare Bearden and Nanette at the Neighborhood Arts Center in Atlanta, March 1978 © Jim Alexander

Bearden and Harlem in the 1960s

Romare Bearden had an evolving relationship with Harlem in the 1960s. He depicted the neighborhood in his art, joined its cultural council, curated local exhibitions, and protested reductive curatorial approaches to Harlem’s history. Prof. Maya Harakawa will focus on this topic and Harlem’s role during the 1960s in defining artistic practice at a moment of profound social and artistic change. 

Maya Harakawa (she/her) is an assistant professor of art history at the University of Toronto. A specialist in art of the African Diaspora in the United States, she is currently writing a book on art and Harlem in the 1960s.

Image caption: Romare Bearden, The Dove (1964) © Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Witness: Rauschenberg Reflects the Tumultuous 1960s 

Deploying methods of collage, innovated with solvent transfer and screenprinting techniques, Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008) explored the ever-proliferating mass media imagescape of the 1960s. Curator Helen Hsu will discuss how Rauschenberg’s remaking and reinvention of collective visual sources invite viewers to engage with shifting conditions of recognition and obscurity critically, recasting the encounter with artwork as a form of creative participation.

Helen Hsu is the Associate Curator for Research at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. She was formerly an assistant curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and is an alumna of Stanford University.

Image caption: Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008) Untitled, 1968 Solvent transfer, gouache, and watercolor on paper 57.2 75.9 cm Robert Rauschenberg Foundation © 2023 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Archive Releases: Urban Walls Atlanta – Central Atlanta Progress Digital Archives 

“Atlanta City Scenes” Dedication Ceremony at the Kutz Building in Atlanta, GA [35mm Slides], November 19, 1976; Romare Bearden Papers [58kra92n], The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc.

Thanks to a generous contribution from Central Atlanta Progress, Inc., which donated 68 media files of digitized documents and photographs to the Romare Bearden Foundation and the WPI, we are delighted to release the Urban Walls Atlanta—Central Atlanta Progress Digital Archives as part of the Bearden Murals and Public Art digital archives series.

Bearden created public art across the United States. This particular mural, Atlanta City Scenes, was part of the 1976 Urban Walls Atlanta project and a testament to Bearden’s special relationship with the city. The WPI’s release of documents, administrative records, press materials, NEA grant applications, correspondence, and photographs offers a glimpse of this now-demolished mural. It helps fill significant gaps in Bearden’s involvement in public art initiatives. 

Visit the WPI Digital Archives for more information about “Urban Walls Atlanta” and the Romare Bearden Papers.

Oral History Release: Romare Bearden

In honor of Romare Bearden’s birthday on September 2nd, the WPI released a new Romare Bearden Oral History.

Jerald Melberg has owned and operated the Jerald Melberg Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina for forty years. Before opening the gallery, Melberg was a curator at the Mint Museum, where he curated the retrospective Romare Bearden, 1970-1980. Having befriended Bearden while working on the exhibition, Melberg subsequently curated several exhibitions of his work at his gallery. 

Melberg’s oral history includes anecdotes of his first meetings with Bearden, memories of challenges and triumphs while curating the major retrospective at the Mint, and reflections on Bearden’s legacy today. 

Listen to the interview on the WPI Oral Histories series podcast.

Related Exhibitions: Bearden, Manet, and Degas

The Romare Bearden: Ways of Working at Asheville Art Museum highlights his works on paper and explores many of his most frequently used mediums, including screen-printing, lithography, hand-colored etching, collagraph, monotype, relief print, photomontage, and collage. 

After a blockbuster run at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris earlier this year, Manet / Degas at The Metropolitan Museum of Art comes to New York this fall, examining one of the most significant artistic dialogues in modern art history: the close and sometimes tumultuous relationship between Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas. Born only two years apart, Manet (1832–1883) and Degas (1834–1917) were friends, rivals, and, at times, antagonists who worked to define modern painting in France. By examining their careers in parallel and presenting their work side by side, this exhibition investigates how their artistic objectives and approaches overlapped and diverged.

Romare Bearden, Lullaby at Birdland, ca. 1980, monotype, 35 ¼ × 47 ⅛, framed. Jerald Melberg Gallery. © The Romare Bearden Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.  
Edouard Manet, Boating, ca. 1874, oil on canvas, 97.2 x 130.2 cm (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
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