For its inaugural presentation at FOG Design+Art, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is pleased to announce Romare Bearden: Collage/In Context, a dual presentation of exhibitions exploring the evolution of collage practices throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. A solo exhibition of collage works by Romare Bearden (1911–1988), will feature nineteen masterworks created throughout the 1960s and 1970s, when the artist’s creative prowess was at its height. Seeking to convey the unparalleled status of Bearden’s contributions to the medium, the booth will also feature a group exhibition curated to contextualize Bearden’s work among other major American artists working in collage from 1937 to 2019, providing unique insight into the precedents, impact, and legacy of Bearden’s work.
Romare Bearden began his career as a political cartoonist in the 1930s, an endeavor that anticipated his later work with ephemeral, mass-produced printed matter. He even used a collage technique in several of his cartoons from this period, pasting clippings from newspaper articles into his panels to set up his strip’s message, which often focused on the political struggles of the African diaspora in the US and abroad. The clean, expressive linework seen in his cartoons carried over into his painting career of the 1940s and 1950s, when he authored a vibrant body of modernist works whose imagery gradually vacillated between process-based abstraction and cubist-inflected figuration. Although the timeline of the artist’s earliest mature experiments in collage is uncertain—dates range from 1956 to 1961—Bearden did not earnestly begin his collage practice until the months spanning 1963 to 1964, at the age of fifty-one. The US political climate had reached a fever pitch in advance of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August of 1963, and the artist, who had grown up in the south and was eminently aware of the nation’s civic failings, found his practice reinvigorated by possibilities he discovered in figurative collage. Working in a mode that incorporated approaches from the cubist and dada collages with which he was familiar, Bearden began producing collage works at an intrepid pace.
Romare Bearden: Collage will present a survey of Bearden’s masterful, intricate compositions focused on themes as expansive as his own talent and wide-ranging interests, which included Greek mythology, jazz, blues, European Old Masters, and Black American life in both urban and rural settings. Highlights of the presentation will include La Primavera (1964), one of the artist’s first major collages that converges cultural signifiers from southern Black American life with allegories of the European Renaissance; Spring Way (c.1968), a work the artist revisited over a period of several years that was inspired by his family history and the Great Migration; and Blue Shade (1973), a collage that incorporates an especially diverse array of media and improvisational composition techniques. Ultimately, Bearden was enamored of the medium’s potential to lay bare the foundational structures of pictorial representation, in both social and formal terms. As Thelma Golden writes, Bearden was drawn to collage’s capacity to get at an “essential notion of representation [by] opening up the authentic and the experiential through formal means.”
While Bearden’s collages drew widespread acclaim and recognition for their originality and influence, the medium as a whole experienced a renaissance in the middle decades of the twentieth century, as all manner of painters, printmakers, filmmakers, and sculptors likewise found the medium replete with generative possibility. In fact, the increasing prevalence of collage techniques in 20th-century art was the subject of a landmark exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1961 called The Art of Assemblage, which Bearden visited. Exhibiting 250 works by 130 artists, the show traced the evolution of the medium from the cubist experiments of Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris through the movements of dada, surrealism, nouveau réalisme, abstract expressionism, and neo-dada. Curated by William Seitz, the exhibition’s sprawling parameters sought to demonstrate the immense impact of collage and assemblage practices on the primary movements of 20th-century Western art.
Collage/In Context takes an approach similar to The Art of Assemblage, bringing together a diverse range of artists working in collage across multiple decades, but with revised parameters to focus on artists working in proximity to Bearden. Many of the artists included here were also represented in the 1961 MoMA exhibition, including Bruce Conner (1933–2008), Conrad Marca-Relli (1913–2000), Louise Nevelson (1899–1988), Richard Pousette-Dart (1916–1992), Anne Ryan (1889–1954), Joseph Stella (1877–1946), Esteban Vicente (1903–2001) and Charmion von Wiegand (1896–1983). Expounding on the indelible impact of Bearden’s work are collages by such artists as Nancy Grossman (b.1940), who worked closely with Bearden to develop a new technique to preserve the integrity of their supports under the weight of several layers of paper and glue. A strong selection of collages by Betye Saar (b.1926) dating from the 1970s through the early 1990s juxtapose objects of particular familial or autobiographical significance with an array of other elements, often referencing sociopolitical ideas or mystical concepts. A small but potent group of works by Jay DeFeo (1929–1989) demonstrate the artist’s iterative process of formal experimentation, wherein ordinary inanimate objects are anthropomorphized to suggest unexpected connections between subjects. Rounding out the presentation are works by artists that could have easily fit into the 1961 MoMA exhibition but were a bit less prominent—but no less important—at the time, such as Hannelore Baron (1926–1987), Burgoyne Diller (1906–1965), Balcomb (1904–1990) and Gertrude Greene (1904–1956), Grace Hartigan (1922–2008), Alfred Leslie (b.1927), Larry Rivers (1923–2002) and Lenore Tawney (1907–2007). Finally, a selection of works created in the decades following Bearden’s death, including collages by Benny Andrews (1930–2006), Al Hansen (1927–1995) and William T. Williams (b.1942) emphasize the enduring influence of Bearden’s work.
While the conceptual underpinnings of these artists’ collage works range from complex narrative, to aesthetic experimentation, to theoretical postulates, all share a common impulse to transform fragmented materials into a new image bearing the significance of both its component parts and the reconstituted, holistic composition. For many of these artists, collage was a means to incorporate the substance of their lived reality into their art through a process that balanced degeneration and regeneration, which was often a reflection of the social upheavals of their era. Bearden stands out as a leader in this arena, as he recursively sought to translate American and African themes that survived or grew out of the ruptures of slavery and diaspora into a visual language created from the manufactured imagery of his moment. He was fascinated by the continuum he perceived in the rituals surrounding birth and death, as well as the traditions that brought factions of society together to observe and reminisce. As Ruth Fine observes, “One great legacy of Bearden’s art is its insight that what we share as a global community is equal in both interest and importance to what makes each of us unique…In the materiality of his expansive expression, method and message become one.”
 Thelma Golden, “Projecting Blackness,” Romare Bearden in Black-and-White: Photomontage Projections (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1997) p. 40.
 Ruth Fine, “Bearden: The Spaces Between,” in Fine et al., The Art of Romare Bearden. (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2003) p. 4.