by Christopher Hutchinson
Romare Bearden is considered one of the most important American artists of the 20th century. He depicted aspects of black culture in a Cubist style….Born in North Carolina, he landed in New York City and studied with George Grosz. His early paintings were realistic with religous themes. Later, his works depict aspects of family culture in a semiabstract collage and Cubist style. He was also a songwriter and designed sets for the Alvin Ailey Company. http://www.biography.com/people/romare-bearden-40540#synopsis
col·lage noun 1. a piece of art made by sticking various different materials such as photographs and pieces of paper or fabric onto a backing. https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/
Romare Bearden has left a significant mark on the African American art community many years after he has gone. He is the most prolific semi-abstract collage artist to be recognized in the realm of art. His influence cannot be easily dismissed. This article will attempt to do just that.
Being the most prolific semi-abstract artist means absolutely nothing in the pursuit of art. Anyone can manufacture a ton of crap, but production is not the sum of what makes a great artist. If production alone were the criteria to be successful many artists would have met and exceed Bearden’s position in the “Black canon.” This article questions his status as the major influencer he is to the African American art community.
There is an argument that Bearden is in many ways the first abstract art introduced to the African American art community. That is simply not the case. Harlem Renaissance artists like Aaron Douglas’ s cubism preceded Bearden by decades and is certainly more an artist. The collage practice period is a gross attempt at creativity. To cut and paste imagery is an ugly mode of praxis.
Any artist who likes the foundation of the arts (drawing, painting, and 3-D works) could never appreciate such a practice void of artistry. Collage as a medium is an offense to these foundations. If this is an artist’s entry point these artists eventually will need to return to those foundations. Bearden’s accomplishment is the fact that he produced this collage farce for his entire career repeatedly with little to no change. The fact that he could dredge through this monotonous cutting and gluing speaks to a kind of attrition that has not to do with art, rather a kind of masochism.
Kitsch noun 1. art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way: “the lava lamp is an example of sixties kitsch” adjective 1. considered to be in poor taste but appreciated in an ironic or knowing way: “the front room is stuffed with kitsch knickknacks, little glass and gilt ornaments”https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/
Kitsch is a more appropriate discussion for Bearden’s prolific production. Knickknacks of African American culture scrapbooked on a large rectangle for consumption. The Harlem renaissance was not Kitsch. They were interested in realism. They used analytic and synthetic cubism to access an abstract realism. Those artists used their art to literally build a vernacular of tangible African American history not to be scrapbooked, rather a present lived moment. Bearden’s work subverts and erases the very foundation the Harlem renaissance built and reduced it to a postcard.
Bearden is used as a model for many artists to aspire to, and many artists succumb to his success as the rubric of their own practice. Many “Black galleries” are saturated with this dated knickknack art that only succeeds as a poor copy of an original consumable. These artists that choose to pick up the mantle of Bearden waste their lives never developing work for themselves. Why do “Black galleries” and collectors support this obvious cliché as the pinnacle of African American contribution? Especially when Bearden himself credits European study as his major source of influence, not the “Black canon.”
By Maynard Eaton
Jerry Thomas Jr. and Alan Avery may have engineered Atlanta’s single most significant black art exhibition ever this past weekend. Their unprecedented collaboration produced an historic cultural event for dozens of the city’s Who’s Who art aristocrats to admire and purchase rare original works by Romare Bearden, America’s preeminent African American artist.
“We are the first two art dealers – regardless of color – that have collaborated,” says Alan Avery, owner of the Alan Avery Art Company in Buckhead. “It doesn’t happen in Atlanta. But, I think it is even more significant that we are from different races and that we come from different backgrounds, but that we are collaborating for the strength of Atlanta, the Atlanta art scene and the Atlanta collector base.”
“Bearden is one of the all-time great artists,” adds Jerry Thomas, the owner and highly regarded impresario of Jerry Thomas Arts. “He would not only enjoy the prices that his works are bringing but also the mixed audience of both blacks and whites. I think that would have been very important to him. What makes it ever more significant is the collaboration between me and Alan Avery. Hopefully this will not only be the beginning of such collaborations, but will set a new mold for the country in terms of blacks and whites working together to produce more shows.”
Bearden’s work now commands a hefty price tag, with the pieces on display at Alan Avery’s gallery ranging from $40,000 to $400,000. It was an uptown show for an upscale cross-section of Atlanta’s elite, and the metro area’s sophisticated art connoisseurs. They didn’t blink at the prices. Six of Bearden’s prize pieces were sold the first day, and the exhibition continues through January. http://saportareport.com/romare-bearden-exhibition-the-tipping-point-of-atlantas-black-arts-renaissance/
From a financial standpoint $400,000 is a great investment, but at what cost. To train the next generation to replicate this means of production is appalling. An artist in 2017 doing a copy of Bearden, believing it to be a true representation of the African American community is beyond delusional yet many Black artists are doing just that. The stagnation located in the African American art community can be placed squarely at the feet of these collectors and galleries that praise the romanticized kitsch element present in all of Bearden’s production. There are many artists within the “Black canon” which would be more suitable as an entry point for African American artists.
Christopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.