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Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2006
Published by: Studio Museum in Harlem
Year published: 2006
Number of pages: 148
ISBN: 0-942949-31-5

image of Energy/Experimentation

Energy/Experimentation: Black Artists and Abstraction 1964 - 1980. Catalogue for exhibition held at the Studio Museum in Harlem, April 5 - July 2, 2006, featuring the work of Frank Bowling, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Ed Clark, Melvin Edwards, Fred Eversley, Sam Gilliam, Daniel LaRue Johnson, Tom Lloyd, Al Loving, Joe Overstreet, Howardena Pindell, Haywood Bill Rivers, Alma Thomas, Jack Whitten, and William T. Williams.

The exhibition attempted to critically address the perception that highly figurative art (dominated by explicit and/or implicit social/political narratives) dominated the work of Black artists in America from the mid 1960s onwards. The exhibition concerns itself with the period 1964 - 1980. The exhibition addresses, indeed, rebuts this perception by bringing together a wide range of work non-figurative and formalist practice by a number of prominent and important Black artists in America, made during the previously-mentioned time period. Such descriptions - of work being “non-figurative“ or “formalist“ - are perhaps misleading, or even inaccurate, as figurative elements, or elements that readily lend themselves to figurative readings, proliferate in the artists’ work. The exhibition was curated by Kellie Jones. Her essay in the catalogue opened with a provocative statement by one of the exhibitors, Sam Gilliam. “Figurative art doesn’t represent blackness any more than a non-narrative media-oriented kind of painting, like what I do.”

Within her catalogue essay, curator Jones introduced her essay as follows: “The period from the mid 1950s through the 1970s were a heady, if now almost mythic, time of struggle for African-American civil rights, African independence and youth and antiwar movements worldwide. In the history of art by African Americans, the time is known for the cultural production of the Black Arts Movement, whose images of resistance and African heritage have become icons of the era. Simultaneously, these artists protested for inclusion in American society.”

Certainly less discussed is the strong voice of abstraction that developed among black artists around this time in both painting and sculpture, a voice created by a critical mass of practitioners committed to experimentation with structure and materials. Flush with the scientific idealism of 1960s, they wrestled with new technologies, including light-and electronic - based works and explorations of recently invented acrylic paint. Their painted works were formal, holistic and engaged, to an extent, with geometry or primary forms in the manner of other contemporary trends, including post-painterly abstraction and systemic painting. They moved from the planar into considerations of “objecthood” that signalled minimalism. Most of them did not fall wholly into one camp or style, but rather their works were hybrids formed in unique, individual language of abstraction, at once iconic and emotional, optical and vibrant.

Energy/Experimentation: Black Artists and Abstraction, 1964 - 1980 focusses on a core group of artists who continued to stay true to these strategies over time. They also exhibit what Mary Schmidt Campbell has identified as a certain “aesthetic collegiality” characterized by similar experiments with opticality, materials, space, tools and surfaces.”

Catalogue (148 pages, colour throughout) features Acknowledgments by Thelma Golden, Director & Chief Curator, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Curator’s Foreword by Kellie Jones, then several essays, as follows: To the Max: Energy and Experimentation, by Kellie Jones; Discrete Encounters: A Personal Recollection of the Black Art Scene of the 1970s, by Lowery Stokes Sims; Free Jazz and the Price of Black Musical Abstraction, by Guthrie P. Ramsay Jr; The Re-selection of Ancestors: Genealogy and American Abstraction’s Second Generation, by Courtney J. Martin. Followed by Black Artists and Abstraction: A Roundtable, featuring Louis Cameron, Melvin Edwards, Julie Mehretu, Lowery Stokes Sims, and William T. Williams, Moderator: Kellie Jones. The catalogue concludes with substantial Artists’ Biographies, Contributors’ Biographies, and finally, a checklist of Works in the Exhibition.

Related people + view all 22

»  Thelma Golden

Born, 1966 in Queens, New York

»  Tom Lloyd

Born, 1929. Died, 1996

»  Al/Alvin Loving

Born, 1935. Died, 2005

»  Julie Mehretu

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, date unknown

»  Joe Overstreet

Born, 1934 in Conehatta, MS, USA

Related exhibitions

Related venues

»  Studio Museum in Harlem

New York, United States of America