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Syncopated Rhythms: 20th-Century African American Art from the George and Joyce Wein Collection

November 18, 2005 - January 22, 2006


Jazz impresario and Boston University Alumnus George Wein (CAS '50) and his wife Joyce collected African American art for many years. The exhibition Syncopated Rhythms: 20th-Century African American Art from the George and Joyce Wein Collection , curated by Patricia Hills, Professor of Art History at Boston University and Melissa Renn, Jan and Warren Adelson Curatorial Fellow in American Art, will showcase the Weins's outstanding collection of sixty works including paintings, sculpture, drawings and a painted story quilt.

This Boston University Art Gallery exhibition is the first time the collection will be shown publicly. The artists include: Charles Alston, Benny Andrews, Ernie Barnes, Richmond Barthé, Romare Bearden, John Biggers, Bruce Brice, Elizabeth Catlett, Eldzier Cortor, Allan Rohan Crite, Miles Davis, Beauford Delaney, Joseph Delaney, Aaron Douglas, Minnie Evans, Palmer Hayden, Oliver Johnson, William H. Johnson, Loïs Mailou Jones, Wifredo Lam, Jacob Lawrence, Hughie Lee-Smith, Norman Lewis, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, Augusta Savage, Bob Thompson, Charles White, Michael Kelly Williams, William T. Williams, Ellis Wilson, John Wilson, Hale Woodruff and Richard Yarde.

The exhibition comprises a range of works done in the late 1920s through the 1990s and is particularly strong in works of the 1940s to the 1970s. Included are both figurative and abstract works, many with the theme of music and musicians. Some artists have but a single work in the exhibition, but others, such as Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, Allan Rohan Crite, Beauford Delaney, and Hughie Lee-Smith are represented by several works. In short, the exhibition presents an excellent survey of the accomplishments of African American artists of the last century.

Syncopation is defined as "a shifting of the normal accent, usually by stressing the normally unaccented beats," as Hills notes in her catalogue essay, "The Expressive Modernism of 20th-Century African American Art." The generation of African American artists who came of age in the 1920s, when ragtime was evolving into jazz and our story begins, did just that in their art. They shifted the beats and emphasized subjects (African Americans in American life) rarely shown in American museums and art galleries. In their styles also, they probed the images and sensations of their memories of African American cultural practices to produce the unexpected. Beginning with Palmer Hayden and continuing with Jacob Lawrence, up to the present day with Benny Andrews, many African American painters, even those academically trained as artists, consciously gravitated to off-beat syncopated styles -- such as folk styles, simplified forms, and silhouetted shapes, rather than the Western tradition of chiaroscuro painting. By rejecting "art as usual" the artists in the Wein collection transformed themselves into modernist artists -- but, like jazz, it was a modernism on their own terms.

The Weins have been active in the worlds of music and art throughout their lives. A professional pianist from his early teens, George Wein went on to lead his own band, playing in venues in and around his native Boston. In 1947 at a James P. Johnson and Sidney Bechet concert at the Boston Opera House, George met Joyce Alexander, who was then a junior at Simmons College in Boston. Joyce also shared a passion for jazz and art, and she wrote a jazz column for the Simmons newspaper. In 1950 George Wein opened his own jazz club in Boston, formed the Storyville Record label and began his career as a jazz entrepreneur.

Wein is best known for creating and organizing the Newport Jazz Festival, the first held in 1954. In 1963 Joyce and George Wein, along with Pete and Toshi Seeger founded the Newport Folk Festival. The Weins also created the Newport Opera Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France. In 1969 Wein established Festival Productions, Inc, which still produces hundreds of musical events each year. Most recently, Wein published his autobiography, Myself Among Others: A Life in Music, which chronicles his life in jazz and was recognized by the Jazz Journalists Association as 2004's best book about jazz. In 2005 he was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship. The Weins have a longstanding history of involvement with philanthropy and the arts, including the establishment of the Joyce and George Wein Chair of African American Studies at Boston University and the Alexander Family Endowed Scholarship Fund at Simmons College.

Throughout their 58 years together, George and Joyce Wein enjoyed a wonderful life filled with the things they loved most: music, art and each other. Joyce Wein passed away August 15, 2005, before seeing this particular dream fulfilled.

The accompanying 100-page exhibition catalogue Syncopated Rhythms: 20th-Century African American Art from the George and Joyce Wein Collection, with a catalogue essay by Patricia Hills, artist entries by Patricia Hills and Melissa Renn, a foreword by Ed Bradley, and illustrated with 64 color reproductions, is the first time that many of the works from the collection will be published. (right: front cover of exhibition catalogue)

There will be an opening reception November 17, 2005, 6 - 8 pm; Boston University Art Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston. George Wein will lead an informal talk on his life as an art collector, sharing his stories about the artists and artworks in the exhibition, November 18, 12 p.m. at the Gallery

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