Sunday, November 5, 2017

Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection at the Ogden Museum

It is often said that "history is written by the victors." Fair enough, but art history has often featured  unlikely, formerly obscure figures whose offbeat talents suddenly propelled them to art star status. Yet, most were white and male even as minorities were typically assigned secondary roles in art movements that never really reflected their artistic ideals in the first place. This landmark exhibition of work from the Joyner/ Giuffrida Collection of African American Abstract Art provides a new context for exploring those artists' sensibilities, and in the process reveals a parallel aesthetic universe where abstraction is a means for personal and philosophical liberation rather than simply a style preference. Co-organized with the Baltimore Museum of Art, this Ogden Museum exhibition kicks off a touring itinerary that will take it to Chicago, Baltimore, Berkeley and Miami among other major American art venues.

Compared to, say, the eclectic rural African-American genius of an artist like Thornton Dial, the works seen here are more like the edgy ruminations of abstract jazz musicians who resonate the funky gravitas of inner city life. So it is no surprise that pioneer mid-century abstract black artists like Norman Lewis seemed to exist just beyond the radar of ab-ext era art critics even as the urban black ethos of the time was eloquently articulated elsewhere. For instance, the fusion of Middle Passage echoes and 20th century industrial flourishes seen in in Melvin Edwards' compact, densely eloquent steel sculptures like Words of Fannon, above, elude most art history memes even as they evoke the lyrical heft of Rahsaan Roland Kirk's gritty jazz riffs. Shinique Smith's chill, neo-baroque concoctions like No Key, No Question, top, seem to parlay hints of Alice Coltrane's spiritual exuberance into playful new pop-cultural Afro-Futurist cosmologies. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye's wryly urbane funk-romantic figurative paintings like Places to Love For, above left,  similarly speak directly to the rhythms of black urban life, even as Sam Gilliam parlays those rhythms into elegant concoctions (see Melody, detail, top left) that fuse color into compositions where light becomes matter, and time is subjective, relative the disposition of the viewer. ~Bookhardt / Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection of African American Abstract Art, Through Jan. 21, 2018, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600. Upcoming Nov 18: Artist & Curator Panel: November 18, 3:30–5pm, with Christopher Bedford, Leonardo Drew, Melvin Edwards, Charles Gaines, Katy Siegel and Shinique Smith. More>>