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Benny Andrews (1930-2006)


1 of 10

There Must Be a Heaven, 1966
oil on canvas
38 x 23 1/2 inches, signed and dated

Liberty #6 (Study for Trash), 1971
oil on canvas with painted fabric collage
78" x 39 3/4" x 1/4", signed and dated

Circle Study #10, 1972
oil on canvas with painted fabric collage
48" x 42" x 1/4", signed and dated

Sexism Study #15, 1973
oil on linen
27 1/2" x 25", signed and dated

Sexism Study #24, 1973
oil on canvas with painted fabric collage and rope
96" x 50 1/2" x 2", signed and dated

Poverty (Study #1-A for War), 1974
oil on linen with painted fabric collage with rope
100" x 48" x 2", signed and dated

Here Comes the Wind, 1980

gouache, ink, wash, paper and canvas collage on paper

28 1/2" x 22 1/2", signed and dated

Sorrow, 1990

oil, fabric, and paper collage with ink on paper
39 3/4" x 26 1/8", signed and dated

Baptist Heaven (Human Spirit Series), 2000
oil on three joined canvases with painted fabric collage
98" x 72" x 1/2", signed and dated

Education Quest #1 (Migrant Series), 2004
oil on paper with painted fabric collage
30" x 22 1/2" x 1/8", signed and dated


Exhibitions


New & Noteworthy

Time Out Magazine, October 19-25, 2016

Gallery Guide

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Traditional Home, October 2016

by Judith Dobrzynski

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MRG PRESS RELEASE

Benny Andrews: The Bicentennial Series

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MRG ARTIST BIO

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ArtNews, May 2012

by Mona Molarsky

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International Review of African American Art, 2010

by Pellom McDaniels III

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The Boston Globe, November 6, 1994

by Nancy Stapen

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American Artist, March 1981

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Black Emergency Cultural Coalition, 1980

by Benny Andrews

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St. Louis Post Dispatch, June 9, 1976

by Patricia Rice

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Art Workers News, Feb-March 1976

by Benny Andrews

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Amsterdam News, January 31, 1976

by Stephanie Bell

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Art Material Trade News, June 1973

by Benny Andrews

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Prints & Publications


Artist Information

“I don’t really think that art really does that much in terms of any kind of social change. . . . I think it always remains a selfish outlet for the individual. And even though they’ve thought up kinda nice words for people who try to be creative, the truth is, that if you try to be creative, you really have to be a very selfish, ego-centered person who has this ego to believe that if you do an apple it will convey something that the millions of people who paint apples all the time do not.”[1]

Benny Andrews (1930-2006) was born the youngest of ten children to George and Viola Andrews in Plainview, Georgia, a rural farming community near Madison. For the first thirteen years of Benny’s life, his family lived and worked on land owned by the Orr family, which had built its fortune on the labor of slaves before the Civil War. As many historians have pointed out, Andrews’ family history reflects the contradictions regarding race relations in the United States. His paternal great-grandfather, William Jackson Orr, had been an officer in the Confederate Army, and his paternal grandfather, James Orr, spent over fifty years in a relationship with Jessie Andrews, Benny’s grandmother. Andrews’ father, George, worked as a sharecropper on Orr family land. Thus, Andrews was born into a system that closely resembled the system of slavery that had held his ancestors.

Despite the brutality of sharecropping, Andrews recalled his childhood as a happy one. In 1935, Jessie convinced James to build the family a two-room wood-frame house on Orr land close to her own.  Andrews began working in the fields as a young child, but he also attended the Plainview Elementary School, a one-and-a-half room log cabin built by the black community in Plainview. Following in the footsteps of his father, a self-taught artist, Andrews began drawing at the age of three; by the time he was in elementary school, he had started to create his own comic characters. In 1943, the Andrews family moved to Madison to work on land managed by C.R. Mason. Because education beyond the seventh grade was severely discouraged, Viola Andrews, determined to provide an education for her children, worked out an arrangement with the Mason family that enabled Benny to attend school when it was not possible to work in the fields. Andrews enrolled in Burney Street High School, graduating in 1948. With a small amount of funding from a 4-H Club scholarship, Andrews enrolled in Georgia’s Fort Valley State College. However, his scholarship ran out after two years, and Andrews struggled with the lack of opportunities to study art. He left Fort Valley and enlisted in the United States Air Force, serving in the Korean War and attaining the rank of staff sergeant before receiving an honorable discharge in 1954. With funding from the GI Bill, Andrews enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1958, he completed his bachelor of fine arts degree and moved to New York City.

In New York, Andrews lived on Suffolk Street, where he met and befriended other Lower East Side figurative expressionists, including Red Grooms, Bob Thompson, Lester Johnson and Nam June Paik. He frequented local bars, jazz clubs, and coffee shops, drawing and painting his surroundings. Searching for a visual language to capture the immediacy of everyday life and the quotidian nature of his subject matter, Andrews developed his “rough collage” technique, combining scraps of paper and cloth with oil paint on canvas. As he explained, “I started working with collage because I found oil paint so sophisticated, and I didn’t want to lose my sense of rawness.” By the 1960s, Andrews had mastered this technique, and in 1962, Bella Fishko invited him to become a member of Forum Gallery, which held first New York solo exhibition. Additional solo exhibitions at the gallery followed in 1964 and 1966. In 1965, with funding from a John Hay Whitney Fellowship, Andrews traveled home to Georgia and began working on his Autobiographical Series. In 1966, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library mounted a two-person show consisting of works by Andrews and fellow figurative painter Alice Neel. Both activists concerned with inequality and injustice, they formed a close and lifelong friendship. They also painted portraits of each other: in 1972, Neel completed Benny and Mary Ellen Andrews, which is currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and Andrews painted his Portrait of Alice Neel in 1987.

In 1970, Andrews began working on the Bicentennial Series as a response to the national celebrations planned for the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. Skeptical of the national mood of celebration and nostalgia, Andrews worried about whether the voices of contemporary African Americans would be included as part of the planning. He also feared that black Americans would be omitted from the official forms of national remembrance, or, conversely, that they would be included, but that the considerable contributions of African Americans to US history would be defined exclusively in terms of slavery. In his journal, Andrews described this project as “a Black artist’s expression of how he portrays his dreams, experiences, and hopes along with the despair, anger, and depression to so many other Americans' actions.” The Studio Museum in Harlem presented the first completed works of The Bicentennial Series in 1971. In 1975, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta presented four subseries from The Bicentennial Series; the exhibition traveled to the Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University, in Ithaca, NY and the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Boston. In 2016-17, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery presented Benny Andrews: The Bicentennial Series, which included the paintings and drawings for the six individual subseries that make up the whole body of work—Symbols, Trash, Circle, Sexism, War, and Utopia.

 

A self-described “people’s painter,” Andrews focused on figurative social commentary depicting the struggles, atrocities, and everyday occurrences in the world. His co-founding in 1969 of the Rhino Horn Group (along with Jay Milder, Peter Passuntino, Nicholas Sperakis, Peter Dean, Michael Fauerbach, Bill Barrell, Leonel Gongora, and Ken Bowman) affirmed his commitment to figural work even as various abstract movements gained ascendancy. However, in his mind, art was no substitute for action. To that end, Andrews also embarked on a long career as an educator, activist, and advocate. In 1968, he began teaching at Queens College, City University of New York, where he was part of the college’s SEEK (Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge) program, designed to help high school students from underserved areas prepare for college. In 1969, he became a founding member of the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC), which formed coalitions with other artists’ groups, protested the exclusion of women and men of color from institutional and historical canons, advocated for greater representation of black artists, curators, and intellectuals within major museums, and facilitated art education. In 1971, the art classes Andrews had been teaching at the Manhattan Detention Complex (“the Tombs”) became the cornerstone of a major prison art program initiated under the auspices of the BECC that expanded across the country. In 1976, Andrews became the art coordinator for the Inner City Roundtable of Youths (ICRY)—an organization comprised of gang members in the New York metropolitan area who seek to combat youth violence by strengthening urban communities. That same year, he picketed the Whitney Museum’s John D. Rockefeller III Exhibition of American Artists, which claimed to exhibit 300 years of American art, but contained not a single work by a black artist and only one (white) woman. From 1982 to 1984, he directed the Visual Arts Program, a division of the National Endowment for the Arts (1982-84), initiating a project to enable artists to obtain health insurance. In 2002, the Benny Andrews Foundation was established to help emerging artists gain greater recognition and encourage artists to donate their work to historically black museums. Shortly before his death in 2006, Andrews was working on a project in the Gulf Coast with children displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Andrews began his final major series in 2004. Titled the Migrant Series, he intended to represent three moments of mass displacement in US history. Between 2004 and 2006, he took three separate trips for this series: following the routes taken by Dust Bowl migrants during the Great Depression, along the path of Cherokee people force-marched from their Mississippi homeland in 1838 on what became known as the Trail of Tears, and to New Orleans and the Gulf coast to study areas devastated by flooding in the wake of Katrina. He completed The Trail of Tears in 2005 before dying of cancer the following year.

Several posthumous solo exhibitions followed his death. In 2007 alone, the Ogden Museum mounted a memorial exhibition; solo shows opened at the Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL and the Trois Gallery, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA. Later that year, Atlanta’s Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia showed Benny Andrews: A Georgia Artist Comes Home and Andrews’ series dedicated to civil rights activist John Lewis was exhibited at the Tubman Museum in Macon, GA. In 2014, this series was also the focus of a solo exhibition at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA. In 2013, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery presented Benny Andrews: There Must Be A Heaven, the first comprehensive retrospective since the artist’s death.

Recently, Andrews’ work has been included in a number of group exhibitions, most notably Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (2014); Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties at the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, which traveled to the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH and the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX (2014); The Color Line: African American Artists and Segregation at the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, France (2016); and Circa 1970 at The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY (2016). Work by Andrews is part of the major exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, recently at the Tate Modern, London, England, and soon to be on view at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, and the Brooklyn Museum. His work is currently shown in the exhibition Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany.

Andrews’ work is represented in over fifty public collections including the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL); Brooklyn Museum (Brooklyn, NY); Chrysler Museum of Art (Norfolk, VA); Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, MI); High Museum of Art (Atlanta, GA); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC); The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY); Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (La Jolla, CA); Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, MA); Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY); National Museum of African American History & Culture, Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC); Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (Philadelphia, PA); Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, DC); The Studio Museum in Harlem (New York, NY); Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (Hartford, CT); and Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY).

In 2008, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC became the representative of the Benny Andrews Estate.


[1] Phil Williams and Linda Williams, “Interview with Benny Andrews,” Artaxia 4, 1975. Reprinted on The Georgia Review website, http://garev.uga.edu/andrewsinterview.html, accessed January 2012

 

 

Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art
Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY
April 30 –October 14, 2017
http://www.speedmuseum.org/

1967: Parallels in Black Art and Rebellion
Charles Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit, MI
June 1, 2017– August 30, 2018
https://thewright.org/

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR
February 2 – April 23, 2018
http://crystalbridges.org/

Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY
September 7, 2018 – February 3, 2019
https://www.brooklynmuseum.org

Picturing Mississippi, 1817-2017: Land of Plenty, Pain and Promise
Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS
December 9, 2017- July 8, 2018
http://msmuseumart.org/

We The People: American Art of Social Concern
Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, Wichita, KS
January 19 – March 25, 2018
http://webs.wichita.edu/?u=ulrichmuseum

Telling a People’s Story: African-American Children’s Illustrated Literature
Miami University Art Museum, Oxford, OH
January 30 – June 30, 2018
http://www.miamioh.edu/cca/art-museum/ 

Something to Say: The McNay Presents 100 Years of African American Art
McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX
February 8 - May 6, 2018
https://www.mcnayart.org/exhibitions/

SELECTED MUSEUM COLLECTIONS

Albany Museum of Art, Albany, GA
Allen University, Columbia, SC
Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AK
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, Pine Bluff, AK
Bennett College, Greensboro, NC
Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH
Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
The Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
David C. Driskell Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
Georgia Museum of Art, Athens GA
Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC
Grey Art Gallery, New York University, New York, NY
Guilford College Art Gallery, Greensboro, NC
The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts & Culture, Charlotte, NC
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, NY
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Hofstra University Museum, Hempstead, NY
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
Housatonic Museum of Art, Housatonic Community College, Bridgeport, CT
Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, TN
James E. Lewis Museum of Art, Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE
Lane College, Jackson, TN
LeMoyne-Owen College, Memphis, TN
Maier Museum of Art, Randolph College, Lynchburg, VA
McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, TN
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Miles College, Fairfield, AL
Mobile Museum of Art, Mobile, AL
Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA
The Museum of African American Art, Los Angeles, CA
The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Atlanta, GA
Museum Overholland, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla, CA
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
National Academy Museum, New York, NY
National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA
Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki, Japan
Ohio University Art Gallery, Columbus, OH
The Palm Springs Museum of Art, Palm Springs, CA
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Philander Smith College, Little Rock, AR
The Rockwell Museum, Corning, NY
Rust College, Holly Springs, MS
Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, MO
San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA
Slater Memorial Museum, Norwich Free Academy, Norwich, CT
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Stillman College, Tuscaloosa, AL
The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
Talladega College, Talladega, AL
Texas College, Tyler, TX
Tougaloo College Art Collection, Tougaloo, MS
The Tubman African American Art Museum, Macon, GA
Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL
Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, Wichita, KS
University of Wyoming Art Museum, Laramie, WY
Voorhees College, Denmark, SC
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT
Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, KS
William Benton Museum of Art
Zora Neal Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, Orlando, FL

1956-66        
John Hay Whitney Fellowship

1971-81      
New York Council on the Arts Fellowships

1972-73      
MacDowell Colony Fellowships, 1975-78

1974-81      
National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship

1976      
O'Hara Museum Prize, Tokyo, Japan

1990      
Bellagio Study and Conference Center Fellowship, Rockefeller Foundation, Bellagio, Italy
President's Research Award, Queen's College

1997      
Member, National Academy of Design, New York, NY

2010  
President’s Award to The Benny Andrews Foundation, United Negro College Fund, Fairfax, VA

 

COLLECTION DESCRIPTION

Biographical Note

Benny Andrews, African American painter and collage artist, was born November 13, 1930 in Madison, Georgia. He was the second of a family of ten children of George and Viola (Perryman) Andrews, sharecroppers. He married Mary Ellen Smith in 1957 (divorced 1976), two sons and one daughter; married Nene Humphrey, 1986. He served in the United States Air Force as a staff sergeant from 1950-1954. He attended Fort Valley State College (Georgia) from 1948-1950 and then the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he received a Bachelors of Fine Arts in 1958.

After graduating from Burney Street High School in 1948, Andrews received a college scholarship for his work in the local 4-H organization. He spent a summer in Atlanta painting murals, then enrolled in Georgia's Fort Valley State College. Two years later, when the scholarship ended, he enlisted in the Air Force. Andrews trained in Texas, then served in Korea until 1954, attaining the rank of staff sergeant.

Returning to civilian life, Andrews enrolled at the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago. During his years at art school, Andrews earned money as an illustrator for record companies and drawing advertising illustrations for various theater companies in Chicago. Andrews earned his BFA in 1958 and moved to New York, settling on the Lower East Side. During the next seven years, they had two sons, Christopher and Thomas, and a daughter, Julia. His wife took an office job to support the family, while Andrews stayed at home, took care of the children, and painted.

Between 1960 and 1970, he had eleven solo shows at the Paul Kessler Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and three at the Forum Gallery in New York City. In 1965, Andrews received a John Hay Whitney Fellowship, which was renewed the following year. In addition to his success as an artist, Andrews earned a reputation as a political activist, fighting for recognition of African American artists and culture. He died on November 10, 2006.

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of the papers of Benny Andrews from 1940-2006. The papers include correspondence, exhibit files, files relating the his organizational work with the National Arts Program files and the National Endowment for the Arts, photographs, printed material, writings and illustrations, audio-visual material, artwork, and Andrews family correspondence and papers.
Arrangement Note

Organized into eleven series: (1) Correspondence, (2) Exhibit files, (3) Organization files, (4) Photographs, (5) Personal files, (6) Printed material, (7) Subject files, (8) Writings/Illustrations, (9) Andrews family correspondence and papers, (10) Audiovisual materials, (11) Artwork, and (12) Unprocessed additions.

http://findingaids.library.emory.edu/documents/andrewsbenny845/?keywords=BENNY+ANDREWS