Exploring Romare Bearden’s important yet rarely-seen body of abstract work in tandem with the range of his art (including the popular figurative collages), this exhibition highlights Bearden’s place within the context of the New York avant-garde of the 1950s-60s and provides the opportunity to reassess the achievements of this seminal American artist.
With some sixty paintings, works on paper, and collages, Romare Bearden: Abstraction is the first exhibition to fully examine and contextualize the artist’s significant body of abstract work. The exhibition includes pieces created before and after the abstract period (among these, the figurative collages for which he is most well-known), reinserting the abstract work into the Bearden narrative, and marks Bearden’s place within the New York avant-garde of the 1950s-60s.
Bearden’s extraordinary abstract watercolors, collages, and stain paintings were executed mainly between his return to New York from Paris in 1950 and approximately 1964. The abstractions are striking in their variety and scale, with the artist freely employing diverse techniques to realize his unique vision and creating works ranging from easel-size to nearly 6-feet tall. Watercolors and oil paintings from the mid-1950s show his continuing devotion to the landscape through abstraction. Large stain paintings—with marbleized effects, paint splatters launched from above the canvas, or curving lines showing the influence of traditional Chinese calligraphy—are a high point and display his experimentation with unprimed canvas, a pursuit shared with other artists of the period. Created with segments cut from paintings and affixed to painted boards, the large collages are distinctive for their powerfully defined shapes.
Some of Bearden’s abstractions have entered public and private collections. Many, however, have remained in storage since they were first exhibited in the 1950s, while others have never been shown. The first public viewing for many of these revelatory works, Romare Bearden: Abstraction sheds new light on this remarkable artist’s stylistic and technical production, and contributes to the development of alternate storylines around the dominant narrative of post-war abstraction.