Last week, I got a chance to preview The Bearden Project at the Studio Museum of Harlem, before the exhibition was open to the public. I went to the art opening with my friend Lori, an art librarian-historian who received an invitation and asked me to come along. And of course being the art lover that I am, I went. The Bearden Project is a collection of works by contemporary artists who were all influenced by master artist, the late Romare Bearden. Romare Bearden was an African-American artist and writer whose art consisted of various media including collage, oils and cartoons and whose writing includes songs that are now considered jazz classics. Bearden was born in Charlotte and raised in Harlem with stints in Pittsburgh and Charlotte. His family was a prominent educated middle class family that moved to Harlem in the early 1910s and took part in the Harlem Renaissance. Bearden completed high school in Pittsburgh, received his degree from NYU and also studied at the Sorbonne. He spent most of his life in New York City, but also had a second home in St. Maarten with his wife, Nanette. More can be learned about Romare Bearden, here.
On September 2, 2011, marked the centennial of Romare Bearden's birth, and is being celebrated in many places around the world. In Charlotte, North Carolina, Romare's hometown, they have broke ground on what will be the Romare Bearden Park, and in New York City, the Metropolitan Museum is having a retrospective of his work, in addition to several other city museums which have his art work in their collection.
The Bearden Project is an eclectic mixture of pieces by Romare Bearden himself and artists who were influenced by him. According to the Studio Museum of Harlem website, some of the artists featured had seen him at art lectures or art talks or encountered his work at local museums while in art school. Each week the collection will expand as it focuses on ten different artists and the collection is expected to stay at the Studio Museum of Harlem until September 2012. This collection was developed and organized by Lauren Haynes, an Assistant Curator at the museum.
As I walked around the exhibition, I saw that the artists had so many different ways of drawing on Romare Bearden's works for inspiration as the artist himself. Some artists created works whose line of inspiration could easily be traced back to a work of Bearden's, while others took fragments of his works to create entirely new works, or created tributes to the artist. For example, several artists reinterpreted Bearden's The Block series, some using collage, 3-D diagrams and life-size murals for their interpretation. Alison Saar's Bain Froid, a beautiful piece that incorporates paint and collage was inspired by Bearden's catalogue, The Prevalence of Ritual.
Faith Ringgold's, Bearden We Love You, is a sweet and whimsical piece that uses an image of Bearden and a mixed media pattern of print and word. Pieces by artists such as Shinique Smith, John Outterbridge, Leonardo Drew, Kori Newkirk, Kehinde Wiley and Julie Mehretu exhibited those inflections of inspiration from Bearden, but were all clearly their own. It was an interesting mix of works to see and I found myself in love with several pieces.
I encourage all art lovers or fans of Romare Bearden to visit the Studio Museum of Harlem and explore the Bearden Project for themselves. I am sure that I will revisit this exhibit soon.