Nov 12, 2015 - Mar 6, 2016

Black: Color, Material, Concept

The Studio Museum in Harlem

"Black: Color, Material, Concept" presents works that explore the ways that modern and contemporary artists of African descent consider the possibilities of “black” through their choice of media, their imagery and the ideas they bring to their work. As an element of art and design, “black” can have amazingly rich gradation of tones and depths. As a word, it a single syllable that can fill columns in a dictionary. As a social construction, it is one of the most highly charged and proudly asserted realities in American life. The exhibition includes more than two dozen paintings, sculptures and prints, drawn primarily from the Studio Museum’s permanent collection. The artists represented in the exhibition range from modernist elders such as Sam Gilliam and Jack Whitten, to a mid-century generation that includes Kerry James Marshall, Glenn Ligon, Leonardo Drew, and Nari Ward, to artists who came of age in the post-Civil Rights era, such as Kara Walker, Noah Davis and Kameelah Janan Rasheed.

"Black: Color, Material, Concept" explores ways that modern and contemporary artists of African descent have considered the multiple and often disparate possibilities of “black” through the choice of media, imagery and ideas. The exhibition includes twenty-five paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints drawn primarily from the Studio Museum’s permanent collection. As an element of art and design, “black” is both a seemingly basic part of any visual experience and an amazingly rich gradation of tones and depths. As a word, it is one syllable that can fill columns in a dictionary. As a social construction, it is one of the most highly charged and proudly asserted realities around the world, from the Haitian Revolution in the eighteenth century, to the antiapartheid Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa in the mid-1960s, to today’s Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. Black materials, such as coal, dye or ink, have historically held great economic value, both in visual art and industry. Symbolically, the color black today evokes elegance and style, but is also associated with solemnity.
The color black results from the complete absorption of light and, uniquely, it is entirely without hue. Toyin Ojih Odutola (b. 1985) explores identity and the sociopolitical constructs surrounding color through her drawings of figures using black pigments. Her use of a true black, unaltered by other colors, questions the meaning of black and the discrepancies between the color and the racial implications it holds. Her charcoal and pastel drawings point to the varieties of shades and textures in the color. In some cases, artists in the exhibition use materials that are both black in color and carry associations with blackness. For example, Nari Ward’s (b. 1972) "Rolling Calf" (1993) is made partially of tar, a material that historically carries negative racial associations. By combining tar with an ironing board, earth, salt, feathers, cotton, cloth and springs, Ward alludes to a history of American domestic labor. This juxtaposition of materials references enslaved women, whose duties would have included laundry, and subsequent generations who served as housekeepers because of limited professional opportunities.
Many artists are interested in blackness as a symbol of personal experience. Though these understandings of blackness vary, artists such as Noah Davis (1983–2015) explore histories and memories of American society that are not easily definable. In his 2008 work, "Black Wall Street," the loosely painted characters are blurry and purposefully ambiguous. Like many other artists in this exhibition, Davis empowers each viewer to create a distinct sense of meaning of this moment in time. Organized by Lauren Haynes, Associate Curator, Permanent Collection, "Black: Color, Material, Concept' presents a multimedia look at work created by artists of African descent, as viewed through the lens of the Studio Museum’s permanent collection, and allows an opportunity to contemplate some of the techniques, themes and ideas that link artists throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Credits: Story

Black: Color, Material, Concept is on view at the Studio Museum from November 12, 2015 to March 6, 2016 and is organized by Lauren Haynes, Associate Curator, Permanent Collection

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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