Rare Romare Bearden works at 92Y
JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Amsterdam News Staff | 11/12/2012, 2:39 p.m.
The 92nd Street Y is celebrating the life and artistry of Romare Bearden in a multidisciplinary tribute featuring rarely seen works by the artist.
The exhibit, "Romare Bearden: The Paper of Truth," features 44 works on paper, watercolors, collages and mixed media pieces, two collections, "The Odyssey" and "The Historical Figures," and a self-portrait drawing that Bearden made days before his death in 1988.
Bearden completed several versions of "The Odyssey," but the 22-piece collection has not been shown in its entirety in New York for more than 30 years. Bearden's "Odyssey" tells the story of a Black man, the hero and his journey, and is laced with elements of African culture and spirituality. It also acts as a metaphor for the Bearden family's own migration from North Carolina to Harlem in 1920.
"The Historical Figures" collection makes its New York debut at this exhibit. It features a series of drawings, made with felt-tip pen on paper, of people prominent in Black history and culture, including Crispus Attucks, Osceola, John Brown, Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman.
The 44 works on paper are all from the collection of Russell Goings and Evelyn Boulware. Goings, an avid collector and poet, was a close, personal friend of Bearden and an invaluable resource on the project, not only sharing these rare gems but also sharing his own expertise and memories of the artist. He was the first Black chairman of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Bearden was on the advisory board, along with Jacob Lawrence, Charles Wright and Elizabeth Catlett. He spoke with the AmNews about the importance of showing and understanding these rare works by his friend of nearly two decades.
"The drawings are of a historical nature. These are drawings that have never been seen. There are drawings of Rosa Parks waiting in jail. There are drawings of John Brown, Emmitt Till and Osceola. These are historical drawings that speak to our journey, our involvement and this country," Goings told the AmNews. "I think that you'd have to know that there is a dialogue that is going on between the historical notion of our presence in this country and 'The Odyssey.' They face each other. You have Homer's 'Odyssey' facing Rosa Parks waiting for justice, Emmitt Till, John Brown and Richard Allen.
"The notion is that 'The Odyssey' and 'The Historical Figures' build bridges. There is a bridge between the works at the 92nd Street Y and our presence as human beings. There are physical bridges, spiritual bridges, that you will have to see to appreciate what is being communicated on the universal level, with absence of color, absence of religion, absence of race. In looking at 'The Odyssey,' the primary colors that he used are red, green and black," Goings said.
This exhibit, part of the Bearden centennial celebration, will also bring together a stellar panel of writers, including Goings, Stanley Crouch, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Elizabeth Alexander, Sarah Lewis, John Edgar Wideman, Kwame Dawes and John Edgar Wideman, all of whom will discuss the importance of Bearden. A piece composed by Toni Morrison especially for the Bearden celebration will also be read.
Thirty lucky students from P.S. 57 will participate in a new program, working with Goings to learn about the importance of collecting art. They will also learn about creating collages in the style of Bearden.
"The collage represents layers as in life," Goings said. "We're talking about not only what is topical, but also that which goes deeper that helps with critical thinking and ownership. My program with them will not only teach about how to develop collages, but also about narration. They have to write a paragraph or two about the works."
This event is co-sponsored by the Romare Bearden Foundation and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. "Romare Bearden: The Paper of Truth" is on display now through Dec. 9. "A Writer's Celebration of Romare Bearden" takes place on Dec. 3 at 8 p.m.
For more information about Bearden at the 92Y, gallery hours, tickets to the literary and dance events, visit www.92Y.org/Bearden.