The Art of Romare Bearden

The Dallas Museum of Art will present the comprehensive retrospective of works by Romare Bearden, one of the most important African-American artists of the 20th century, from June 20 to Sept. 5, 2004. The Art of Romare Bearden will feature almost 150 paintings, collages, collotypes, monotypes, watercolors, and sculpture.

In addition to the exhibition, the Dallas Museum of Art will debut its newest acquisition, Soul Three (1968), a major large-scale collage by Bearden. The acquisition is the first work by Bearden to enter the Museum’s collections, which also contains important works by African-American artists Jacob Lawrence, John Biggers, Willard “The Texas Kid” Watson, Annette Lawrence, and Jean Lacy. Soul Three was purchased through the Museum’s General Acquisitions Fund and the Roberta Coke Camp Fund. The collage will be on view near the entrance to the retrospective exhibition.

The Art of Romare Bearden represents Bearden’s early expressionist, cubist, and semi-abstract compositions, later watercolors and prints, and colorful and complex collages, which reveal Bearden’s mastery over this medium.

Using cut-out images of faces and other fragments of reality, Bearden typically pasted them on cardboard and augmented the work with paint, ink, and graphite. Themes in the works include jazz, the rhythms of modern life, women, Greek mythology, stories from the Bible, and life in Harlem, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and the Caribbean island of St. Martin.

“Geographic inspiration for Bearden’s art ranges from his birth place in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, to New York’s Harlem in the 1920s through the 1980s, to the Caribbean island of St. Martin, where he and his wife owned a home,” said Dorothy Kosinski, senior curator of painting and sculpture at the Dallas Museum of Art and curator of the exhibition in Dallas. “The child of a middle-class family, Bearden grew up in Harlem in the social and cultural exuberance of the Harlem Renaissance. Frequent visits from family friends such as Duke Ellington and Fats Waller made jazz an early passion for Bearden, and music continued to inform his art throughout his life. His highly narrative works also show references to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, particularly the inspiration of Martin Luther King, Jr.”

The largest collage, which measures 10 x 16 feet and is a highlight of the exhibition, is Berkeley – The City and Its People, a seven-panel assemblage of photographs and colored paper, which was commissioned by the Berkeley city government in 1973 and hung outside the city council chambers in Berkeley City Hall. Unlike most of his works, which referred to his personal experience, Bearden used this collage to reflect the diversity he found in the city of Berkeley, ranging from the university campanile, to the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, to protesters, students, football players, and a wide racial and ethnic spectrum.

The Art of Romare Bearden includes examples of Bearden’s “projections,” photo-enlarged versions of his collages that represented the African-American experience.

After graduating from New York University, Bearden earned his living as a social case worker for Gypsies for New York City’s Department of Social Services. With the exception of service during World War II and some postwar travel in Europe, he continued his work in social services until retiring at age 58. Until then, he created his paintings and collages at night and on weekends. Even while employed as a social worker, art for Bearden was always a full-time vocation.

While studying and traveling in Europe, Bearden was profoundly influenced by the Dutch paintings of Johannes Vermeer and the collages of Henri Matisse. In addition to his education at NYU, Bearden studied at the Art Students League in New York. He played an important role in Spiral, a salon for black artists interested in social change. Bearden advocated for the responsibility of black artists to reflect their struggles while at the same time illustrating a common humanity that transcended race.

“Perhaps because of his immersion in music as well as visual art, Bearden was constantly improvising in his collages,” Kosinski said. “Through improvised color, texture, composition, and ideas, he constantly experimented and pushed the limits of his art beyond the status quo.”

While he is best known for his visual art, Bearden was also a songwriter whose lyrics were performed by Billie Holiday and recorded by Billy Eckstein, who had a major hit with Bearden’s song “Seabreeze.” After drawing inspiration from participants in the Harlem Renaissance, such as Duke Ellington and Ralph Ellison, Bearden, in turn, influenced later generations of musicians and intellectuals, including playwright August Wilson and jazz virtuoso Wynton Marsalis. His artistic interests blended when he designed album covers for jazz recordings, including one by Marsalis.

The exhibition has fostered renewed interest in the life and career of Romare Bearden. A fully illustrated catalogue includes an essay by the organizing curator Ruth Fine of the National Gallery of Art, a detailed chronology of Bearden’s life, an edited compilation of Bearden’s writings, an overview of Bearden’s library, and an annotated bibliography. A new biography, Romare Bearden: Collage of Memories by Jan Greenberg (Abrams, 2003), recently has been released, and renowned saxophonist Branford Marsalis released a CD, Romare Bearden Revealed (Marsalis Music), inspired by Bearden and intended to accompany the exhibition.

The Art of Romare Bearden is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington. The exhibition is made possible with generous support from AT&T. Presentation in Dallas is made possible by RBC Dain Rauscher with promotional support provided by CERP Foods, Inc., The Dallas Morning News, Dallas Weekly, and Southwest Airlines.

Admission to the Bearden exhibition, which includes an audio tour and admission to the permanent collection, is $10 for adults and $8 for senior citizens and children ages 12 to 17. Children under 12 are free. Members receive free admission to the Bearden exhibition with a $4 charge for the audio tour.

About the Dallas Museum of Art
The Dallas Museum of Art, established in 1903, has an encyclopedic collection of more than 23,000 works, spanning 5,000 years of history and representing all media, with renowned strengths in the arts of the ancient Americas, Africa, Indonesia, and South Asia; European and

American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; and American and international contemporary art.

The Dallas Museum of Art is the anchor of the Dallas Arts District and, in all its vitality, serves as a cultural magnet for the city with diverse programming ranging from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary readings, dramatic and dance presentations, and a full spectrum of programs designed to engage people of all ages with the power and excitement of art.

The Dallas Museum of Art is supported in part by the generosity of Museum members and donors and by the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas/Office of Cultural Affairs and the Texas Commission on the Arts.