Hunter to unveil varied Smithsonian 'African American Art' exhibit

Hunter to unveil varied Smithsonian 'African American Art' exhibit

February 13th, 2014 by Clint Cooper in Chattnow Art

"School's Out," a 1936 oil painting by Allan Rohan Crite, is one of the pieces in the new Smithsonian American Art Museum-curated "African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond" exhibit at the Hunter Museum of American Art.

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"Top of the Line (Steel)," above left, is a 1992 mixed-media assemblage of enamel, unbraided canvas roping and metal by Thornton Dial Sr.

IF YOU GO

¦ What: "African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond" exhibit.

¦ When: Friday, Feb. 14-Sunday, May 25.

¦ Where: Hunter Museum of American Art, 10 Bluff View.

¦ Admission: $9.95 adults, $4.95 children ages 3-17.

¦ Phone: 423-267-0968.

¦ Website: www.huntermuseum.org.

If walls could talk, those encompassing the Hunter Museum of American Art's upcoming "African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond" exhibition would have quite a story to tell.

Indeed, there would be 100 stories from throughout the 20th century - a time of great upheaval for blacks in the United States - that represent the 43 black artists and 100 pieces in the exhibit.

"This exhibition allows us to understand profound change through the eyes of artists," says Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which curated the traveling exhibit. "These works by African-American artists are vital to understanding the complex American experience."

The exhibit opens Friday, Feb. 14, and runs through Sunday, May 25.

While the pieces are drawn entirely from the Smithsonian Museum's collection of African-American art, more than half of them were never exhibited until the traveling show.

Among the 43 artists, Jacob Lawrence, Benny Andrews, Thornton Dial, Sam Gilliam, Richard Hunt and Lois Mailou Jones have works in the Hunter Museum's permanent collection.

Two pieces by Lawrence, in fact, are part of the museum's current exhibit, "Slavery: A Continuing Legacy," and pieces by Dial and Gilliam are currently on view in the museum's contemporary galleries, according to director of communications Hannah Legg.

The Smithsonian collection includes paintings, sculpture, prints and photographs.

"Visitors will be struck not only by the power of these artworks but also by the variety of the pieces on display," says Virginia Mecklenburg, chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Smithsonian. "So many new movements and styles grew out of the tumult of the 20th century, and these works reflect that diversity."

Many of the gelatin prints and photographs represent the century's average Joes, rather than celebrities and other luminaries.

"That's what makes this exhibit more profound," says Legg. "These came out of [that century], and the artists weren't who they are now. They're striking images; there's a lot of power behind them."

"The Greatest Obstacle," by Richard Hunt, is a 1975 chromed and welded steel plow from the series Great Ideas.

Among the provocative sculptures and mixed-media pieces are "The Colonel's Cabinet" by Renée Stout, which offers the scene of a chair in front of a cabinet of found and handmade objects; one of a chromed and welded steel plow, "The Greatest Obstacle" by Richard Hunt; and the colorful metal work "The Petition" by Gilliam.

One of the pieces that will be prominent in the display, according to Legg, is "Top of the Line," a contemporary mixed-media painting by Dial.

She says the museum's chief curator, Nandini Makrandi, is displaying it prominently because of the response to the same artist's work in its contemporary galleries.

Among the programming that will accompany the Smithsonian exhibit is the appearance of its curator, Mecklenburg, who will offer - as part of the museum's Art Wise series - insight on its various pieces at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 27.

"This is the type of opportunity you're not usually going to get," Legg says.

Contact Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.