The Philadelphia Museum of Art is highlighting their collection of works made by artists of African descent with a new publication and exhibit of the same name, Represent: 200 Years of African American Art.
Represent opened to the public, January 10, 2015. The exhibition features 75+ works culled from the museum’s holdings by consulting curator Dr. Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, and Project Curatorial Assistant, John Vick.
For the majority of the public, many of the pieces in this exhibit have only been seen in photographs. The exhibition is a reflection of the history of race in the United States, it is also comprised of unique voices that separate themselves from categorization with their creative freedoms.
The hand of the artist weaves itself in and out of historical, social and personal conflict with narratives we try to understand; our engagement with these stories is a base for commonality. They make one think about the things that say true and unchanging – the importance of identity – finding a place of belonging that can hold an honest grounding within our individuality. The diversity of this approach can be seen in the presentation of works chosen.
Before you enter the exhibit gallery, notice the drawings of the exterior and interior of the Main Building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, attributed to the architect Julian Abele. In 1902, Abele was the first African American to graduate from the architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania.
It’s a fitting beginning to the complexity of art that ranges in means and interpretation throughout the five groupings; Early America, Imagining Modernity, Abstract Approaches, Past Made Present, Facing the Collection.
Notable Philadelphians in the exhibit: Moses Williams, former slave and profile cutter in the household of portrait artist and first museum entrepreneur Charles Willson Peale; Henry Ossawa Tanner, whose painting The Annunciation was the first African American work to be acquired by an American Museum; Dox Thrash, a printmaker ; Sculptor, Barbara Chase-Riboud; Moe Brooke; Barkley L. Hendricks.
As you walk through the exhibit, don’t miss this unintentional conversation between – The Deposition by Bob Thompson and Present Futures by Moe Brooker. The paintings sit cattycorner to one another, sharing the same celebratory color palettes. [Thanks to DuBois Shaw for pointing that out]
Within the exhibit space, Kara Walker is the youngest artist shown. At 46, Walker is still a very relevant artist, but it’s worth pointing out that artist Jayson Musson (Gallery 124 in the permanent collection) is a younger voice that bookends the exhibition. Musson’s, Trying to find our spot off in that light, light off in the spot can be seen in the permanent collection, with a reference to it’s inclusion in the catalogue and exhibition.
Horace Pippin – The End of the War: Starting Home
From afar it can seem a simple canvassed painting. But a closer inspection will reveal scenes that depict the brutality of war. Notice its framing of carved weapons, helmets, and tanks.
Carrie Mae Weems – Untitled
Three of the twenty photographs that comprise The Kitchen Table Series are shown here (One of our Art Basel Miami highlights). Weems stages these stretched scenes into long unspoken sentences comprised of emotions and identity within relationships.
Glenn Ligon – Untitled (I’m Turning Into a Specter before Your Very Eyes and I’m Going to Haunt You)
Stand there long enough to realize that you are re-reading a single phrase; Ligon’s repetition of this phrase begins to dissipate into a powerful message as the words begin to blur and disappears into a bigger meaning.
Moses Williams – Peale Family Silhouettes