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Beyond the Spectrum: Abstraction in African American Art, 1950-1975

January 11 – March 8, 2014


Charles Alston (1907-1977)
Flowers of Evil, 1952
oil on canvas
50 1/4 x 30 1/4 inches, signed and dated

Charles Alston (1907-1977)
Troubadour, c.1955
oil on canvas
40 x 30 inches, signed

Frank Bowling (b. 1936)
Tony’s Anvil, 1975
acrylic on canvas
68 x 42 1/8 inches, signed and dated

Frank Bowling (b.1936)
Untitled, 1968
acrylic and string on canvas
93 1/4 x 52 1/4 inches, signed and dated

Harold Cousins (1916-1992)
La Forêt (The Forest), c.1960
welded bronze with patina on wood base
42 x 47 1/2 x 17 1/2 inches

Harold Cousins (1916-1992)
Le Matador, 1955
welded steel
47 x 24 x 13 inches

Harold Cousins (1916-1992)
Plaiton Suspendu (Hanging Plaiton), 1958
welded steel and brass
59 x 17 x 11 inches

Beauford Delaney (1901-1979)
Untitled [MR50], c.1961
oil on canvas
76 3/4 x 51 inches

Beauford Delaney (1901-1979)
Untitled [MR172],1965
oil on canvas
25 1/2 x 21 1/4 inches, signed and dated

Melvin Edwards (b.1937)
Homage to James Benjamin Edwards, 1964
welded steel
20 x 17 x 11 1/2 inches

Sam Gilliam (b.1933)
After Glow, 1972
acrylic and dye pigments on canvas
74 1/4 x 100 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches, signed and dated

Sam Gilliam (b.1933)
One Thunder, 1970
acrylic on unstretched canvas
70 x 23 x 11 inches, signed and dated

Richard Hunt (b.1935)
Untitled [MR7], c.1956-66
welded steel
30 1/2 x 19 1/2 x 12 1/2 inches

Richard Hunt (b.1935)
Untitled [MR6], 1961
welded steel
66 x 10 1/4 x 7 inches, signed and dated

Norman Lewis (1909-1979)
Promenade, 1950
oil on canvas
40 x 30 inches, signed and dated

Norman Lewis (1909-1979)
Untitled [MR143], 1966
oil on canvas
37 1/2 x 60 1/8 inches, signed and dated

Al Loving (1935-2005)
Untitled [MR2], 1969
acrylic on shaped canvas
30 1/2 x 25 3/4 inches, signed and dated

Alma Thomas (1891-1978)
Azaleas in Spring, 1968
oil on canvas
20 x 24 inches,  signed and dated

Alma Thomas (1891-1978)
Carnival of Autumn Leaves, 1973
oil on canvas
50 x 50 inches, signed and dated

Alma Thomas (1891-1978)
Lunar Rendezvous-Circle of Flowers, 1969
oil on canvas
50" x 48", signed and dated

Jack Whitten (b. 1939)
Zen Master, 1968
oil on canvas
63 1/4 x 86 3/4 inches, signed and dated

William T. Williams (b. 1942)
Cape Split, 1972-73
acrylic on canvas
84 x 60 inches, signed and dated

William T. Williams (b. 1942)
Nu Nile, 1973
acrylic on canvas
84 x 60 inches, signed and dated

Hale Woodruff (1900-1980)
Portal 2, c.1968
oil on  canvas
42 x 32 inches, signed

Hale Woodruff (1900-1980)
Sun, Moon, Star, c.1965-70
oil on canvas
30 x 25 inches, signed

Hale Woodruff (1900-1980)
Rape of Europa, c.1958
oil on canvas
48 1/8 x 60 inches, signed

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Artists


Press


Press Release

RECEPTION
Saturday, January 18, 5:00-7:00PM

I think all art is abstract . . . the earliest art of human beings was figurative and abstract. Period. So there was never a time that human beings didn’t deal with both modes. To conceive of something from the world you experience, and then create or recreate based on it, is an abstract process anyway.
- Melvin Edwards

Representation versus abstraction, black versus abstraction: two analogous constructions, each artificial to the core.
- Jonathan Binstock

(New York—January 8, 2014) Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is pleased to present Beyond the Spectrum: Abstraction in African American Art, 1950-1975, an exhibition of over thirty paintings and sculptures by leading abstractionists including major works by Charles Alston, Frank Bowling, Ed Clark, Harold Cousins, Beauford Delaney, Melvin Edwards, Sam Gilliam, Richard Hunt, Norman Lewis, Al Loving, Howardena Pindell, Alma Thomas, Jack Whitten, William T. Williams, and Hale Woodruff. Since its inception, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery has consistently exhibited work by African American abstractionists, in solo exhibitions (Thomas, Delaney, Cousins, Lewis) and group shows—on mid-century American abstraction, abstract expressionism, and within its celebrated African American Art: 20thCentury Masterworks series. While many of these artists have been a constant presence in the gallery’s exhibition history, Beyond the Spectrum marks the first time that work by Bowling, Clark, Loving, Pindell, Whitten, and Williams will be on view at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery.

Beyond the Spectrum follows in the curatorial footsteps of Kenkeleba Gallery’s (New York City) groundbreaking 1991 show The Search for Freedom: African American Abstract Painting, 1945-1975 and the more recent Energy/Experimentation: Black Artists and Abstraction 1964-1980 (2006) at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Like these predecessors, Beyond the Spectrum is not intended to be a comprehensive survey of twentieth century African American abstractionists. Instead, the show presents abstract painting and sculpture by a group of American artists working in the years just before, during, and after the Civil Rights Movement. While their identity as black Americans is not the motivation for their inclusion in the show, this identity is nonetheless significant in that many found themselves marginalized in a white-dominated art world that granted limited admission to black artists and again within the Black Arts movement, which rested on a revolutionary ethos that saw abstraction as a site of established privilege, limited in its ability to express political dissent and contribute to the struggle for racial equality.

As the title suggests, Beyond the Spectrum plays on notions of spectra—of ranges and degrees between fixed polarities. Just as refraction reveals light to be far more complex than our immediate perception allows, the artists in this show reveal a plethora of positions and possibilities within the seemingly unified categories of “painting,” “sculpture,” “abstraction,” and “political/apolitical art”. In paintings by Alma Thomas and William T. Williams, the color spectrum is mined for its aesthetic and expressive potential as vivid hues are juxtaposed in dynamic compositions that pulse with energy. Working with a more limited palette, Howardena Pindell and Beauford Delaney explored the wide range of shades and intensities within a given color in their luminous paintings. Moving between media, the draped canvases of Sam Gilliam and the torn paintings of Al Loving exist on the spectrum between painting and sculpture. Finally, within the varied strands that make up abstraction, Richard Hunt, Harold Cousins and Melvin Edwards embraced welded metal to explore abstraction in the third dimension.

The works in Beyond the Spectrum attest to the array of approaches and styles within American abstraction, and they challenge two persistent tendencies: to conceive of abstraction as the purview of white artists and to limit notions of authenticity to figural representations of African American culture where black artists are concerned. The first hides the monumental contributions African and African American culture have made to modernism. As American art historian Thomas McEvilley has written, it was not by accident that abstract expressionism emerged in tandem with bebop. Furthermore, to routinely omit artists such as Norman Lewis, who participated in the famous closed-door Studio 35 sessions defining abstract expressionism, is to disregard abstraction’s debt not only to black culture, but to the artists who shaped its contours and analyzed its place in art history and theory.

The second issue, concerning “authenticity” and “the black experience” is generally discussed in relation to the Black Arts movement and its preference for images that contested the pervasive vilification, ridicule, and disparagement of African Americans in US popular culture. But the split that imagined “African American artist” as incompatible with “abstract artist” predates the Black Arts movement by decades. As abstraction gained momentum after the war, black American artists were at the forefront of aesthetic debates, but unlike their white counterparts, they also had to contend with an art world that saw them first as black and second as artists. In his 1946 essay “The Negro Artist’s Dilemma,” Romare Bearden criticized the tendency to evaluate work by black artists based on “sociological rather than aesthetic” criteria. Although Bearden himself worked in a more representational vein, he was acutely aware that as long as the sociological dominated the conversation, the formal innovations of both figural and abstract artists of color would continue to be dismissed.

Beyond the Spectrum highlights precisely these formal innovations. Emphasizing the stylistic accomplishments of artists whose careers were diminished or who were marginalized or excluded solely on the basis of racial categorization, the exhibition argues that not only did black artists shape American modernism in a vital way, but also that, like the division between figuration and abstraction, the notion that abstract art cannot be either “black” or political is entirely false. 

Visuals available upon request.

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is located at 100 11th Avenue (at 19th Street), New York, NY, 10011. Gallery hours are Tuesday–Saturday, 10AM-6PM.

For additional information, please contact Marjorie Van Cura at 212.247.0082 or mv@michaelrosenfeldart.com.

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