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Legends and Legacy Award: Elizabeth Catlett

November 13, 2005 - April 23, 2006



(above: Elizabeth Catlett, Civil Rights Congress, 1949, Linocut on cream wove paper; 310 x 180 mm [image]; 462 x 325 mm [sheet])


The Art Institute of Chicago receently announce the acquisition of five new prints by renowned artist Elizabeth Catlett, which will be on view in the exhibition Legends and Legacy Award: Elizabeth Catlett, November 13, 2005, through April 23, 2006, in Gallery 141. This exhibition focuses on Þve new acquisitions from Catlett's early career, including three works from the celebrated series I Am the Black Woman. It also recognizes Catlett as the Þrst recipient of the Art Institute's Legends and Legacy Award, an honor bestowed by the museum's Leadership Advisory Committee. (left: Elizabeth Catlett, Special Houses (from the series "I am the Black Woman"), 1946, from the edition of 20 printed in 1989, Linocut on cream wove paper; 108 x 150 mm [image]; 200 x 255 [sheet])

Elizabeth Catlett (b. 1915) is a printmaker and sculptor who has had an undeniable inþuence on the art world through her dedication to social justice, women's rights, and advocacy for literacy. She began her training during the 1930s and 1940s, absorbing the ideas of ancestral heritage and aesthetic ethnocentrism espoused by the principal participants of the Harlem Renaissance. She formed close ties with a Chicago group of African American artists in 1941 when she came to study ceramics at the School of the Art Institute. In 1945, she was awarded a prestigious Julius Rosenwald Fellowship, which enabled her to embark on a series of works about black women. When the grant was renewed for a second year, Catlett completed the project as a suite of prints -- I Am the Black Woman -- in Mexico, where she worked at the Taller de GráÞca Popular. There, she became heavily influenced by the social realist style of the Mexican muralist tradition.

Taking her cue from activist artists at home and abroad, Catlett ascribed to the ideal that art could and should play a role in transforming society. Understanding that printed art can be distributed widely, she has continuously produced prints, which are considered by many to be her greatest achievements. I Am the Black Woman series, for example, pays tribute to the determination of heroines of African American history as well as the everyday valor and integrity of ordinary women. (right: Elizabeth Catlett, La Presa, 1952, Linocut on gray laid paper; 450 x 370 mm [image]; 638 x 484 mm [sheet])

Legends and Legacy gathers a group of five powerful prints: In Other Folk's Homes politicizes the everyday by highlighting the plight of domestic worker; Special Houses aims to address the issue of segregated housing and the experiences of African Americans in crowded northern cities; and A Special Fear for My Loved Ones is a highly emotional print that draws attention to the issue of lynching and the ever-present threat of bodily harm that plagued the southern black community. Two other works on display in Legends and Legacy primarily deal with social and political progress within the African American and Mexican communities. Civil Rights Congress, was produced in Mexico but represents Catlett's continued concern for the African American community in the United States. The piece commemorates William Patterson, a member of the communist party and the national executive secretary of the Civil Rights Congress. It combines imagery familiar to both African Americans and Mexicans. Another print acquired by the Art Institute is La Presa (The Dam), which is representative of work Catlett would produce for the Taller Gráfica Popular (TGP) celebrating the Mexican revolutionary spirit, as evident in its social and economic progress, in this case, the building of a dam and the channeling of environmental resources.

To commemorate the exhibition Legends and Legacy Award: Elizabeth Catlett, the Art Institute -- in conjunction with Yale University Press -- is publishing an illustrated catalogue titled Elizabeth Catlett: In the Image of the People. The catalogue features an essay by Melanie Anne Herzog, professor of art history and director of women's and gender studies at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, and an expert on Elizabeth Catlett. Numbering 40 pages, this softcover book is available at The Museum Shop.

Legends and Legacy Award: Elizabeth Catlett is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, and is curated by Mark Pascale, associate curator of prints and drawings.


(above: Elizabeth Catlett, In Other Folks Homes (from the series "I am the Black Woman"), 1946, from the edition of 20 printed in 1989, Linocut on cream wove paper; 55 x 162 mm [image]; 255 x 205 mm [sheet])




(above: Elizabeth Catlett, And A Special Fear For My Loved Ones [from the series "I am the Black Woman"], 1946, from the edition of 20 printed in 1989

Linocut on cream wove paper; 213 x 153 mm [image]; 385 x 285 mm [sheet])


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