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"Black Spirit": Works on Paper by Eldzier Cortor

March 7 - May 7, 2006


The Indiana University Art Museum's spring special exhibition programming includes an exploration and celebration of the career of the noted African- American artist Eldzier Cortor (b. 1916). "Black Spirit": Works on Paper by Eldzier Cortor will run from March 7 through May 7, 2006. (right: Eldzier Cortor, American, b. 1916, Dance Composition No. 31, 1978, color intaglio on paper. Courtesy of Kenkeleba Gallery. © Eldzier Cortor)

The exhibition showcases painter/printmaker Eldzier Cortor's interpretation of the black American experience, from his Depression-era portrayal of the working class in Chicago's South Side, to his study of African retentions in the former slave cultures of the U.S. South and Caribbean, to his focus on the allegorical, black female figure in his later works. While his work lacks a single, representative style (moving instead between realism and abstraction), it reflects his diverse artistic influences. As Matthew Backer, one of the exhibition's co-curators observes, "He believed in blending art traditions -- African, Afro-Caribbean, Gullah, European, and American -- to reflect the complicated culture of African Americans. Only through hindsight can we unravel and appreciate the diverse threads that come together in Cortor's work."

While this eclecticism may have resulted in his relative public obscurity, he is widely regarded as a leading figure in the field of African American art, as demonstrated by his inclusion in major survey books on the subject and in numerous important public and private collections, from the Smithsonian Institution's to Bill and Camille Cosby's. It is the goal of this exhibition to reacquaint Midwesterners with the work of a native son and to provide an insight into the decades of art movements and key moments in American history that helped to shape it.

Although a talented painter, Cortor began to explore the graphic arts in the 1940s as a means of democratizing his art and as an avenue for exploring new techniques. The exhibition includes three drawings from the late 1930s and early 1940s and eighteen prints from 1940 through the late 1990s in a variety of media, including woodcut, etching, lithography, and mezzotint, highlighting the artist's thematic and stylistic evolution over almost fifty years. Cortor's responsiveness to the properties of the print media and his interest in color variations and the reworking of his plates will be illustrated through comparative prints. The works are on loan from the collections of Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and Kenkeleba Gallery in New York City.

Two Indiana University art history graduate students, Jennifer Heusel and Matthew Backer, have co-curated the exhibition and co-authored the accompanying gallery brochure under the direction of John Bowles, School of Fine Arts Assistant Professor of Art History, and Nanette Esseck Brewer, IU Art Museum Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper.

The exhibition will coincide with the interdisciplinary conference, "Variations on Blackness," to be held at Indiana University from March 30 through April 1, 2006. The conference will open March 30 with a lecture by Edmund Barry Gaither, Director and Curator of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists and Special Consultant at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A public reception will follow, featuring gallery talks by the exhibition curators and a new dance performance inspired by Cortor's prints and choreographed by Iris Rosa, Associate Professor in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies and Director of the Africa American Dance Company.

The exhibition is supported by the Lucienne M. Glaubinger Endowed Fund for the Curator of Works on Paper, Office of the Vice President for Institutional Development and Student Affairs, IU Art Museum's Arc Fund, and Blairex Laboratories, Inc.


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