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The Search For Freedom: African American Abstract Painting 1945-1975

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1991
Published by: Kenkeleba Gallery, New York, USA
Year published: 1991
Number of pages: 139

image of The Search For Freedom: African American Abstract Painting 1945-1975

Substantial catalogue, hardback, for The Search for Freedom: African American Abstract Painting 1945-1975, which 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.

Corrine Jennings, Director of Kenkeleba Gallery opened her Foreword to the catalogue for The Search for Freedom: African American Abstract Painting 1945-1975 with: “While the development of Black abstraction parallels the northern migration and the development of the urban blues/jazz genre, few inclusive exhibitions of the work of African American abstract painters have been presented even though this style represents the major thrust in painting by African Americans since 1950. This exhibition explores the work of the most overlooked, and least understood cadre of African American painters in our history. It is a project we consider long overdue.

The catalogue was extensively illustrated, as well as containing important texts by a range of contributors including Frank Bowling, who opened his text Some Notes Towards An Exhibition of African American Abstract Art with “It’s doubtful whether by declaring that the discussion ‘Black Art’ is moribund will make it go away. Vanish! And so lighten a burden which often seems, in its onerousness, well night (sic) unbearable to those of us as artists, who also might happen to be ethnically African in origin.”

The catalogue’s 65 plates included images by artists not included in the exhibition, namely Robert Reid, Gerald Jackson, and William H. Johnson. There was also an archival image of one of the exhibiting artists, Thelma Johnson Streat, c. 1935-40.

Contents as follows:

Two Worlds: African-American Abstraction in New York at Mid-Century, Ann Gibson

Part I: The Early Years
Part II: The Second Generation

Two Generations of African-American Abstractionists: An Overview, Steve Cannon

Some Notes Toward an Exhibition of African-American Abstract Art, Frank Bowling

Some Thoughts on the Significance of the Exhibition, Thomas McEvilley

Catalogue of the Exhibition

Biographies of the Artists.

Related people + view all 43

»  (Sir) Frank Bowling OBE, RA

Born, 1935 - 1937 (probably 1936) in British Guiana (now Guyana) Caribbean/S. America

»  Mildred Thompson

Born, 1936 in Jacksonville, Florida, USA

»  William White

Born, 1937 in Washington, D.C., USA. Died, 1968

»  William T. Williams

Born, 1942 in Cross Creek, NC, USA

»  Frank Wimberley

Born, 1926 in Pleasantville, New Jersey, USA

Related exhibitions

Related venues

»  Kenkeleba Gallery

New York, New York, USA, United States of America