I visited  Denver last month, on Inauguration weekend, on the Women's March weekend; it now seems like a much longer time ago.  I came across  a  rich cultural fabric - museums, galleries, art  spaces, and above all, artists making remarkable work. I came across a deeply layered and vibrant art scene, notably a thriving contemporary art community, even in the face of the kind of economic and gentrification pressures afflicting a lot of other major creative centers.  My trip looks different to me from the perspective of a month into the age of Trump. I see my experience of the...
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Art Hysteria - 2.18.2017 - Joshua Johnson

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   Portrait of an African American Man. ca 1805 Girl Wearing a Bonnet, c.1810.  Who was Joshua Johnson? For one thing, a man deeply aggrieved. “Having experienced many insuperable obstacles in the pursuit of his studies," he writes of himself in the third person, in a Baltimore newspaper. "Insuperable obstacles" – a clear allusion to racism and discrimination. You can hear across the centuries a man's indignation, wounded pride, rage. And yet, he persevered and he prevailed. Johnson (ca 1763-1830) was the first man of color in the US to make a living as an artist. How much confidence, not...
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Art Hysteria - 2.14.2017 - Harriet Powers

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In the next couple of weeks I'll be posting about early African-American artists, beginning with Harriet Powers. Harriet Powers was born in Georgia into slavery in 1839. Harriet Powers' work reveals the bedrock importance of African pictorial tradition in the development of American folk art. Only two works by HP survive: Bible Quilt, 1886 (Smithsonian), and Pictorial Quilt, 1898 (MFA Boston, pictured). The two applique quilts depict bible stories; they also reflect the transmission of the semi-abstract textile applique art and esthetic of the Fon/Dahomey, the largest ethnic and linguistic group in present-day Benin (known among other things for their...
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Goya's The Pilgrimage of San Isidro How does art respond to a political and societal event of vast and cataclysmic dimensions? To large-scale war, atrocity, and ruin? Goya offers a majestic answer in one of his Black Paintings, The Pilgrimage of San Isidro. I think of it as a forerunner to Guernica, akin in ambitiousness, scope, and theme to Picasso's panorama of man's inhumanity to man. The Pilgrimage of San Isidro is one of 14 (or 15) "Black Paintings" Goya painted on the walls of a farmhouse outside Madrid in the 1820's before he fled into exile to Bordeaux France. It...
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Modernity is not just about *how things are represented; it is also crucially about *who is represented; and of course, *by whom.    Image 1: no, not a long-lost Kehinde Wiley; the Emissary of Congo, Don Miguel de Castro, painted in Brazil by Jaspar Beckx, ca 1643. Image 2: no, not a long-lost Kehinde Wiley: Portrait of an African Man painted by Jan Jansz. Mostaert c. 1525-30. Beckx was brought to Brazil in the 1630's by the Dutch governor to produce what we would call naturalist and anthropological documentation.   Mostaert was active a century earlier at the court of  Margaret...
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