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Romare Bearden: Narrations


Romare Bearden: Narrations presents sixty-one collages and watercolors from three projects never published during the artist's lifetime. Today, the works are held in a private collection and have not been presented previously in exhibition.

Bayou Fever is a storyline and a series of costume designs for a ballet that was to have been choreographed by Alvin Ailey. The suite, Jazz, includes works that Bearden developed as illustrations for a projected book on this musical idiom. The third series, New York Scenes, was developed as cinematic backdrops for credit lines for Director John Cassavetes's film Gloria. Jazz numbered among Bearden's favorite subjects; it was a theme to which he returned many times during his career.

A color catalogue that includes an essay by Sharon F. Patton, the John G. W. Cowles Director of the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, accompanies the exhibition.

Romare Bearden (1911 - 1988), a foremost American artist who portrayed the African American experience through the visual language of narrative and metaphor, was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is celebrated internationally as one of the twentieth century's most creative visual artists. His varied talents and interests included history, literature, music, baseball, mathematics, and the performing arts.

Bearden polished and perfected the art of the collage. Because he applied paint directly onto the patchwork he created from paper, photos, contact sheets and other elements, he viewed his collage works as paintings. Ms. Patton writes that "The sacred and the profane, poetry and prose mix eloquently in collage paintings found in Romare Bearden: Narrations, and the exhibition illustrates Bearden's adept use of collage as a tool for refashioning representation and meaning. His technique is sophisticated, his compositions refined, and his color is nuanced yet lush and effusive."

Bearden established African art as a formal element in his oeuvre and employed African-American folk culture as the subject matter in many of his works. Bayou Fever is about the African heritage rooted strongly in Louisiana and about the African Diaspora into the Caribbean and North America. In creating the Bayou Fever series, Bearden developed his own storyline and designed the costumes for the 1979 Alvin Ailey ballet that was never realized. Bearden featured a familiar mosaic of characters - trumpet players, conjure women, and mixed African and Caribbean masqueraders within a Southern rural narrative.

Jazz is the aesthetic pulse for many of Bearden's paintings and he reflects it effectively on paper and on canvas. The Jazz series was commissioned as illustrations for an unrealized book on jazz inspired by the 1961 movie Paris Blues for which Duke Ellington had composed the musical score. The series reflects Bearden's life, his musician friendships, Harlem of the 1930s and 1940s, and in particular, Bearden's Paris trip.

The twenty-two watercolors that comprise New York Scenes, commissioned for Cassavetes's film Gloria, feature abbreviated strokes intermixed with daubs of intense, vibrant color that synthesize and express the New York skyline and canyon-like spaces while retaining the two dimensional aspects of the painting. "Each composition connotes the architectonics behind jazz and its sounds - impulse and counter-impulse, point and counterpoint," notes Patton.

Romare Bearden: Narrations is on view at the Neuberger Museum of Art through December 29, 2002. Subsequently, the exhibition travels to the Flint Institute of Art and the Delaware Art Museum. The exhibition is organized by Lucinda H. Gedeon, Ph.D., Director, and Dede Young, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Neuberger Museum of Art.

Romare Bearden's work is included in important public collections among them, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Neuberger Museum of Art to name just a few.

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