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Art and Soul: An Exhibition of African-American Art at the Brooklyn Museum

Ellen Levitt

Posted on December 3, 2018 16:54

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"Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power" is an intriguing survey of art created by Black Americans from the 1960s through the 1980s. It is on display at the Brooklyn Museum through early February 2019.

Twentieth-century American art almost always seems to have been infused with socio-political themes. So much of the art then (and now) has been influenced by society at large, expressing charged viewpoints and exploring a tangle of issues in both subtle and shocking ways. 

The artwork displayed in "Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power" is intrinsically tied to the African-American experience, delving into the problems faced by Blacks in general, and artists specifically. Through a selection of pieces reflecting a wide range of media and emotions, this exhibition delivers a powerful set of lessons in art, history, politics, violence and more.

A bit surprising, then, to find out that the exhibition was located earlier at the Tate Modern in London. How and why would an exhibition on American Black art start at the ever-trendy Tate? But it did, in cooperation with the Brooklyn Museum as well as a museum in Bentonville, Arkansas and another in Los Angeles. 

Visitors experience various pieces, including paintings, photographs, sculptures and mixed media, and which are grouped by key cities such as New York and Chicago. Although well-known artists such as Romare Bearden and Faith Ringgold are represented here, it is fascinating to see the work of many lesser-known artists as well. 

Some pieces included here deliver a powerful shock even today, or perhaps even more now, in our fraught time: Faith Ringgold's "The Flag is Bleeding" is potent commentary on the lives of Black Americans and America overall. "Fred Hampton's Door 2" by Dana C. Chandler is a bullet-ridden door, and touches upon the murder of a Black Panther leader by Chicago police. 

Some of the sculptures in particular are strongly rooted in African art styles, such as pieces by Betye Saar and John Outterbridge.

Other works focus on individuals and do not seem overtly political, but rather are studies of the human spirit. A double portrait photograph of jazz great Duke Ellington, by Cleveland Bellow, is an atypical image of the great musician in that it focuses on the man without musical symbols. More typical is a photo of musician John Coltrane in performance, by Roy DeCarava. A wooden sculpture by Elizabeth Catlett portrays the iconic Black Power salute on one side, with carved heads on the other. 

The exhibition takes up considerable space on the top two floors of the Brooklyn Museum, and the variety of images and themes is bound to spark much analysis and conversation. One question to ponder is how people view these items in 2018 and 2019. Are they seen as timeless works? (Many certainly could be.) As grouped together in this show, do they have a greater impact or do many of the works recede into the background, lessening their individual strength? By linking them together in a show about Blacks in this time period, do they become parts of a grand theme, and less individual works?

Visit this exhibition and ponder these issues. 

 

Ellen Levitt

Posted on December 3, 2018 16:54

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Source: HuffPost

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