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The Art of Romare Bearden

September 14, 2003 - January 4, 2004


The Art of Romare Bearden, the most comprehensive retrospective ever assembled of the large and diverse body of work by one of America's preeminent 20th-century artists, will be presented by the National Gallery of Art in its East Building, September 14, 2003 - January 4, 2004. Approximately 130 works will explore the complexity and scope of the artist's evolution and will feature many rarely exhibited and/or never before reproduced works from private collections.

Paintings; drawings and watercolors; monotypes and edition prints; collages of diverse materials, including fabrics; photographs; wood sculpture; designs for record albums, costumes, and stage sets; and book illustrations reveal the places where Bearden lived and worked: the rural south; northern cities, principally Pittsburgh and New York's Harlem; and the Caribbean island of St. Martin. They also reflect his wide range of interests and explore often overlapping themes of religion, ritual practice, everyday life, jazz clubs, brothels, history, mythology, and literature.

Organized by the National Gallery of Art, the exhibition will also be seen with slight variation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, February 7 - May 16, 2004; the Dallas Museum of Art, June 20 - September 12, 2004; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, October 14, 2004 - January 9, 2005; and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, January 29 - April 24, 2005.


The Exhibition

Romare Bearden's oeuvre of more than 2,000 known works in many media reveals the diverse influences of earlier Western masters ranging from Duccio, Giotto, and de Hooch to Cézanne, Picasso, and Matisse, as well as his fascination with African art (particularly sculpture, masks, and textiles), Byzantine mosaics, Japanese prints, and Chinese paintings.

The sections of the exhibition are Origins, Circa 1964, Mecklenburg Memories, The City and Its Music, Stories, Women, Monotypes, Collaborations, and Late Work .

Highlights include Berkeley-The City and Its People (1973), which measures 10 x 16 feet and will be seen here for the first time outside of the Berkeley City Council chambers where it was installed in 1974; The Block II (1972), an unusual multipanel piece depicting the varied indoor and outdoor life of Harlem; and Mauritius (1969), his only known work of sculpture, which alludes to a martyred Roman soldier, an African recruited from upper Egypt. Also in the show are three illustrations (never before exhibited or reproduced) for a book, Li'l Dan, the Drummer Boy: A Civil War Story, for which Bearden also wrote the text. It has just been published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Among the many private collectors lending to the National Gallery of Art exhibition who knew Bearden personally are artist and art historian Professor David C. Driskell and Mrs. Driskell; musician and educator Wynton Marsalis; and Marion B. Javits, widow of the late Senator Jacob Javits.


The Artist

Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, the seat of Mecklenburg County, on September 2, 1911. About 1914, his family joined in the Great Migration north, settling in New York City, which remained Bearden's base for the rest of his life. He became a prolific artist whose works were exhibited throughout the United States and Europe. He was also a respected writer and an eloquent spokesman on artistic and social issues of the day. His many awards and honors include the National Medal of Arts he received from President Ronald Reagan in 1987, one year before he died in 1988.


Related Activities, Catalogue, and Resources

A wide range of films, brochures, concerts, lectures, tours, and family and school programs for all ages will be offered free of charge throughout the run of the exhibition. A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue and other exhibition-related books and items will be sold in the Gallery Shops and there will be special restaurant offerings, including a weekend jazz brunch. The audio tour, which will be available for rent, will feature Gallery director Powell, exhibition curator Ruth Fine, David C. Driskell, and Wynton Marsalis. A video documentary on Bearden produced by the Gallery will be shown continuously in a theater adjacent to the exhibition in a 12-minute format; a 30-minute version will also be available for viewing in the East Building auditorium and for sale in the Gallery Shops.

A 64-foot community mural inspired by the National Gallery of Art's exhibition, The Art of Romare Bearden, is on display until January 30, 2004, in the 9th and G Street windows of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G Street, N.W., in downtown Washington, D.C.

Inspired by Romare Bearden's scenes of city life, hundreds of area school students and families collaborated to make this mural depicting their impressions of life in the Washington, D.C., area. The mural was created under the guidance of local artist Cheryl Foster and the Department of Teacher, School and Family Programs at the National Gallery of Art. (right: The National Gallery of Art recently distributed video documentaries from the exhibition, "The Art of Romare Bearden," to hundreds of area schools and coordinated a Bearden-inspired community mural project involving some 500 area children, including students from DC's Seaton, Brookland, Amidon, and Shadd Elementary Schools. Left to right are:Richard Jackson, interim director, District of Columbia Public Library; Ruth Fine, Bearden exhibition curator, National Gallery of Art; Peter Parham, acting chief of staff, DC Public Schools (DCPS); and Paula Sanderlin, art content specialist, DCPS, with the videos, standing in front of the64-footmural on display through January 30, 2004, at the Martin Luther King;)

The National Gallery of Art distributed the video documentary "The Art of Romare Bearden" to hundreds of area schools and educators. During the month of October 2003, students from four District of Columbia public elementary schools-Ms. Thomas' and Mr. Spraggins' fourth-grade class at Seaton (NW), Ms. Jackson's fourth-grade class at Brookland (NE), Ms. Hugee's sixth-grade class at Amidon (SW), and Ms. Randall's fourth-grade class at Shadd (SE)-studied Bearden's art from the video and various classroom activities. The students documented the landmarks and daily activities of their neighborhoods through photography and collage, establishing a design for the mural. The students identified important motifs in Bearden's work-trains, roosters, cats, African masks, musicians-and incorporated these symbols into their collages. During the National Gallery of Art's Family Weekend in November, more than 400 children and parents participated in mural workshops to complete the mural, sharing the sights and sounds that make Washington special to them. (left: Back row, left to right are:Peter Parham, acting chief of staff, DC Public Schools (DCPS); Ruth Fine, National Gallery of Art exhibition curator; Richard Jackson, interim director, DC Public Library; Paula Sanderlin, art content specialist, DCPS; Heidi Hinish, Head of Teacher, School, and Family Programs at the National Gallery of Art; Wendy Lukehart, Coordinator of Children's and Young Adult Collections, DC Public Library; Aisha Randall, Shadd Elementary fourth-grade teacher; Cheryl Foster, local artist, who supervised the mural's production; and Cynthia Cephas, Shadd Elementary teacher's aide.  They are joined by Ms. Randall's fourth-grade class from Shadd in front of the 64-foot mural on display through January 30, 2004, at the Martin.)

Editor's Note: Readers may also enjoy these RLM articles:

rev. 12/20/03

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