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Thomas McEvilley

Born, 1939 in Cincinnati, Ohio USA. Died, 2013

Thomas McEvilley was an American art critic, poet, novelist and scholar, who was a distinguisted lecturer in art history at Rice University and founder and former head of the Department of Art Criticism and Writing at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

McEvilley contributed a text to the catalogue for The Search for Freedom: African American Abstract Painting 1945-1975, an exhibition that took place at Kenkeleba Gallery, New York, May 19 - July 14, 1991. It was a major exhibition featuring some 35 artists - Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, Betty Blayton-Taylor, Frank Bowling, Peter Bradley, Vivian E. Browne, Ed Clark, Adger Cowans, Beauford Delaney, Sam Gilliam, Ray Grist, Bill Hutson, Zell Ingram, Harlan Jackson, Daniel LaRue Johnson, Ronald Joseph, Larry Compton Kolawole, Norman Lewis, Al Loving, Richard Mayhew, Algernon Miller, Mary Lovelace O’Neal, Joe Overstreet, Howardena Pindell, Rose Piper, Haywood Bill Rivers, Thomas Sills, Thelma Johnson Streat, Alma Thomas, Mildred Thompson, William White, Jack E. Whitten, William T. Williams, Frank Wimberley, and Hale Woodruff. The exhibition sought to demonstrate the extent to which ‘African American’ artists were at the forefront of experiments and commitment to abstraction in the visual arts, in the mid 20th century. Whilst the exhibition was subtitled African American Abstract Painting 1945-1975, two of the artists were in fact Caribbean born; Ronald Joseph, from St. Kitts and the British artist Frank Bowling, born in Guyana. This exhibition marked a hugely significant intervention into art historical narratives, which have tended to locate African American artists very firmly within the camp of figurative practice, with all of its attendant social narratives.

McEvilley’s text was Some Thoughts on the Significance of the Exhibition, in which he claims “A part of the incredible good fortune of White American culture has been the generous, priceless, and mostly unrewarded contribution of the voice, and the eye, of African Americans. They have been truth tellers: Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, Miles Davis and Malcolm X, Billie Holiday and Josephine Miles.”

McEvilley wrote the first of three reviews of Documenta 11, published in Frieze, issue 69, September 2002, totalling 14 pages (pp. 80 - 93). The reviews, all liberally illustrated, were written by Thomas McEvilley, Kobena Mercer and Dan Fox.

McEvilley died on 2 March 2013. For an obituary, see: www.huffingtonpost.com/g-roger-denson/internationally-renowned_b_2805629.html?utm_hp_ref=arts/

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