Romare Bearden at Emory
By Stan Washington | 12/20/2013, 3:48 p.m.
Art lovers in the metro Atlanta area will get a rare opportunity to view a rare exhibition by the renowned Romare Bearden (1911-1988), considered to be one of the most powerful and original artist of the 20th century. The exhibition runs until March 9, 2014, at Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum.
In 1977, Bearden created a series of paintings comprised of collages and watercolors based on Homer’s epic poem, “The Odyssey”. The series was originally displayed for only two months in New York City before it was scattered between museums and collectors. Now the series can be viewed again thanks to the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).
The exhibition is complimented by an additional exhibition “Southern Connections: Bearden in Atlanta.” The exhibition features pieces by Bearden from private collectors, photos of the artist during his many visits to Atlanta and other printed material never publicly displayed before. Most of the material was obtained through Emory’s library of collections, the Hammond House and Clark Atlanta University.
Noted photographers Jim Alexander and Susan Ross also contributed photos of Bearden during one of his Atlanta visits.
Bearden had long ties to Georgia. He knew Atlanta University professor W.E.B. DuBois since he was a young boy. His friendship with artist and professor Hale A. Woodruff began when he visited Spelman College in 1941. Bearden has several solo exhibitions at Spelman College starting in 1967 and was artist-in-residence being in 1968. The Atlanta Neighborhood Arts Center named its gallery after him. And he had a long friendship with collectors Otis T. Hammonds and the late Richard A. Long.
“Southern Connections’ surveys Bearden’s literary, scholarly and artistic relationships in Atlanta, which shaped his influential career as an African American artist who death with a range of subjects from his upbringing in the South, to jazz and the Caribbean island of St. Martin, to Homer’s ‘The Odyssey,’” said Amanda Hellman, Carlos Museum Curator of African Art and co-curator of “Southern Connections.”
“When we started curating the exhibition, we kept coming across people in Atlanta who knew Bearden or had pieces or photographs of him, so we decided to put together to additional exhibition, said co-curator Amalia Amaki, professor of Modern and Contemporary Art, University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.
According to Amaki, “The Odyssey” was one of Bearden’s favorite stories. “Bearden felt that everyone has an ‘odyssey’, particular black folk,” she said during an opening preview of the exhibition.
Bearden’s own odyssey came as a young child when his family moved from Charlotte, NC to Harlem. His family was part of the Great Migration Movement of the 20th century that saw tens of thousands of African Americans leaving the hostile South for better opportunities in the North.
“As a meditation on the western epic tradition and African American mobility, Bearden’s Odyssey series invites a broader examination of African American culture and within the context of migration, escape, and notions of home and belonging,” said Mark Sanders, Chair of Emory University’s Department of African American Studies.
The work of Bearden and his late friend and contemporary Jacob Lawrence are two of the mid-to- late 20th century African American artists that has endured and will continue to do so, believes Sanders.
“I think for Bearden, it’s his ability to combine the most salient traditions – both artistic and broader culture tradition and to re-interpret them to an African American experience,” Sanders said in an interview with The Atlanta Voice.
Sanders loves Bearden’s use of cubism, bright colors and his angularities, plus his suggestions with both blues and jazz in works, he said.
“Bearden’s ability to take from these traditions and other traditions to evoke the African American experience is something that we can identify with beyond the moment it was created or the moment that it was trying to depict,” Sanders said.