This exhibition presents works from the Arthur Primas Collection. This significant collection of African American Art includes paintings, sculptures, works on paper, graphics and documents which cover a period of one hundred and fifty years. Included in the exhibition are 75 works by more than 30 artists. These artists, many under the extreme pressure of an unresponsive public, brought forth magnificent art which reflects the African American experience and aesthetic.
Dating back as far 1860’s, to the present, African American artists have been encouraged and recognized on a very limited basis. Black artists have struggled for inclusion in society’s marketplace of art and survived the imposition of marginal status on them, their art, and their culture. Curators, critics and dealers of the art world have rarely regarded early African American themes and expressions of art as big money makers whether they related to slavery, sharecropping, or ghetto life. Until recently, art history curriculums and literature still did not give adequate recognition to African American artists. Now these artists are being collected and recognized for their significant creativity, achievements and contribution to the history of American Art.
The earliest works of art go back to 1802-03, to the uprising of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the hero of the Haitian Revolution. A very important early painting in the exhibition is by Edward Bannister. In 1876 Bannister received one of the highest art prizes at the U.S. Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia. African American artists quickly realized their desire to be recognized and applauded as professional artists, and decided to emulate prominent European artists. Many African American artists during this period were trained by various European artists and many eventually traveled to Europe to study. They received recognition for their studies, but racism in the society kept them out of the mainstream of the art world. From 1900 through the 1920’s many black artists continued to imitate European artists because they felt the interest in black art and artists in Europe was more sincere. Artists in the exhibition from this period include Hale Woodruff, Aaron Douglas and Beauford Delaney.
Charles White became a force in bringing about the unique portrayal of the Black image in American Art. Early in his oeuvre are images of black people and his black heroes. He always insisted on the dignity and respect of the individual. Beginning in 1939, he painted the outstanding men and women of African American history. There are a number of extremely rare and significant artworks by Charles White’s in this collection. Through his drawings, paintings and prints are found the beauty of his commitment to a warm understanding of the meaning of his existence, men's and women's aspirations and sorrows, their inner spirit, but above all their dignity. He is quoted as saying, “Paint is the only weapon that I have that which to fight what I resent. Since I paint, I must paint about it.”
The Harlem Renaissance began around 1918 and lasted into the 1930’s and brought forth an exuberance of music, literature, drama and of course, art. The movement toward social realism and abstract formalism in art opened up paths of interpretation and expression in black art. Some African American artists were able to overcome the obstacles and continued to gain praise for their work. Artists Charles Alston, Richmond Barthe and Aaron Douglas, who were prominent during the Harlem Renaissance, are represented in this collection.
Many of the artists in this collection followed rapidly carrying on the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance including Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Charles White, John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Hughie Lee-Smith, Charles Searles, Bob Thompson, Richard Mayhew and Bennie Andrews
A group of artists of great significance found expression in the growing Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and the response of the Black community to events in that era. Artists from this period in the exhibition include Robert Colescott,Larry “Poncho” Brown, Brian Collier, James Curtis, and Howardena Pindell.
The 75 works in this exhibition represent just a portion of the 300 works in the Arthur Primas Collection. The exhibition will be available for presentation beginning in 2009 through 2011.
Charlotte Sherman, Curator, Arthur Primas Collection