RCAD Celebrates Black Artistic Achievements with “Spectrum” Exhibition

Todays News


As historical narratives continue to evolve and become more attuned to the contributions of the disenfranchised, African American art has found itself increasingly at the center of appreciation. Whether it’s contributions to music by way of blues, jazz or hip-hop, or with the rediscovery of Harlem Renaissance greats like Zora Neale Hurston, there have invariably existed many Black artists that produced work deserving of the same merit as their white contemporaries. And RCAD extends this appreciation with a special exhibition called, “Spectrum: A Celebration of Artistic Diversity.”

The exhibition features celebrated African American visual artists across a broad scope of styles and mediums, including paintings, quilts, prints, sculpture and drawings. Artists that rose to prominence in and around Harlem feature prominently throughout, with pieces that capture a slice of the Black NYC experience during the prodigious outpouring of arts during the 1920s. The flagship piece is a collage by Romare Bearden titled, “Jazz II Deluxe.” With its absurdly exaggerated figures of musicians and frenetic composition, one can almost hear the ambling virtuosity of a saxophone solo or the sporadic cymbal crashes of a drumbeat in odd time signatures.

While many of the featured artists were making explicit comments on the issues surrounding racial equality in the US, others simply sought to paint for the sake of painting. “African American heritage is a common thread,” says Tim Jaeger, “but not all of it deals explicitly with social issues surrounding blackness.” Landscape paintings from Edward Mitchell Bannister, a Black Canadian-American tonalist painter, evoke the pastoral magic of the French Barbizon movement, while brightly colored, surreal landscape works from Richard Mayhew belie his strong ties to the Civil Rights movement.

Jaeger is most excited for the collection of works from Jacob Lawrence, whose Cubist portrayals of African Americans at work was one of the first of its kind to spotlight the everyday Black experience. “If I had to steal a piece from the whole exhibition,” says Jaeger, “it would be Builders #3.” He and any other aspiring art thieves will have until February 6th to do so. There will also be a reception from Newtown Alive on January 18th to commemorate the exhibition.

Photo by Andrew Fabian, “Jacob Lawrence’s Builders #3 celebrates the figurative and literal industriousness of the everyday African American experience.

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