FORT WORTH, Texas—On May 18, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art presents Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey, an exhibition of nearly 50 artworks by Romare Bearden (1911–1988), one of the most powerful and original artists of the 20th century. The collages, watercolors and prints in the exhibition are based on Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey,” the ancient story of the Greek hero Odysseus’s journey home to Ithaca after fighting in the Trojan War. The exhibition is the first full-scale presentation of these works outside of New York City and is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey is on view at the Amon Carter through August 11, and admission is free.
In the Black Odyssey series, Bearden establishes an artistic bridge between Homer’s poem—arguably the definitive work of classical mythology—and African-American culture by depicting Homeric characters as black players on the timeless stage of antiquity. As Bearden once said, “All of us are on a kind of odyssey. And I think this is what makes the story so lasting, so classic, and applicable to everyone.”
Robert G. O’Meally, the Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and curator of the exhibition, suggests a still broader context to Bearden’s series, which assures us that the search for home, family and a sense of belonging is central to self-discovery for all modern-day Americans regardless of race. “In creating the Black Odyssey series,” O’Meally says, “Bearden not only staked a claim to the tales of ancient Greece as having modern relevance, he also made the claim of global cultural collage—that as humans, we are all collages of our unique experiences. Indeed, Bearden does not merely illustrate Homer—he is Homer’s true collaborator, and he invites us as viewers to inherit Homer’s tale and interpret it as our own.”
Amon Carter director Andrew J. Walker concurs. “Bearden’s reinterpretation of ‘The Odyssey’ has a universal appeal that will perhaps allow us all to reflect on our own personal journeys,” he says. “The artworks are beautiful and filled with vivid, saturated colors and geometric images that captivate the imagination. Because Bearden’s work is not in our collection, the exhibition offers an introduction of this important American artist to our visitors.”
The exhibition provides visitors with many ways to learn about Bearden’s life and work. A multimedia tour is available as a free app on web-compatible devices, including smartphones and tablets, and works with Android and Apple operating systems. Visitors may also access the tour on one of the museum’s handheld devices, available for free check out during their visit. Visitors can create works of art by remixing Bearden’s collages in a free iPad app titled “Romare Bearden: Black Odyssey Remixes.” With this app, visitors can layer shapes and forms, and add written words and sound to a variety of Bearden backdrops. (This app is only accessible on visitors’ iPads; devices are not available at the museum.)
Within the exhibition visitors can discover Bearden’s influences, inspiration and techniques through a 15-minute film. It features rarely seen interviews and footage of Bearden at work in his studio; poignant insight and analysis from O’Meally and Diedra Harris-Kelley, the artist’s niece; and commentary from his close friend and personal photographer, Frank Stewart.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum will display the work of local artist Sedrick Huckaby (b. 1975), who credits Bearden as an important influence. Huckaby’s 18-by-14-foot oil painting Hidden in Plain Site (2011) will be displayed in the museum’s atrium through October.
Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in cooperation with the Romare Bearden Foundation and Estate and DC Moore Gallery. The exhibition and its related educational resources are supported by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. The Fort Worth presentation is supported in part by Bates Container, the Garvey Texas Foundation and AZZ incorporated.
A fully illustrated companion book of the same name (DC Moore Gallery, 2008), written by O’Meally, complements the exhibition. The hardcover book features full-color images of Bearden’s work and an essay by O’Meally, and retails for $45 in the Amon Carter’s Museum Store + Café.
After the exhibition closes in Fort Worth, it continues on its seven-city national tour through 2014 with stops in Madison, Wis., Atlanta, Manchester, N.H. and New York.
Free Public Programs
Art Discovery: Romare Bearden Family Workshop
June 8, 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Explore the exhibition and discover how Bearden’s art was influenced by literature, music and the places he called home. Then create your own colorful collage! This program is designed for children 7 to 12 and their adult companions. Reservations are required, and registration opens on May 1. Call 817.989.5030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
Art and Music: Romare Bearden Musical Performance
July 14, 2–3 p.m.
Enjoy a lively afternoon of music inspired by the exhibition with local ensemble Of Many Colors. Reservations are required, and registration opens on June 1. Call 817.989.5030 or email email@example.com to register. This program is made possible in part by a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Romare Bearden’s Improvised Art Lecture by Dr. Robert G. O’Meally
August 8, 6−7 p.m.
Listen to exhibition curator and Romare Bearden scholar Dr. Robert G. O’Meally share insights into the artist’s life and work with emphasis on the Odysseus series. This series expanded Bearden’s earlier explorations of historical narratives by presenting his own reinterpretation of the subject. Reservations are required, and registration for this program opens July 1. Call 817.989.5030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to register. This program on American art, culture, and society is made possible by a generous gift from the late Anne Burnett Tandy.
Guided tours of Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey occur at 3:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. No reservations are required.
About Romare Bearden
Born in Charlotte, N.C., Bearden moved with his family to Harlem in New York City as a young child, part of the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to greater opportunity in the North. His family’s home became a meeting place for major figures of the Harlem Renaissance, introducing him to the world of art. He eventually received his degree from New York University, where he studied art and was the editor of the monthly journal “The Medley.” He also attended the Art Students League in New York and later the Sorbonne in Paris.
Following his service in the army during World War II, Bearden embarked on a lifelong study of art, taking for inspiration a broad range of artistic influences, from Giotto, Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso to the sculpture, masks and textiles of African art. He proved to be a prolific artist whose works were exhibited during his lifetime throughout the United States and Europe. His eclectic collages, watercolors, oils, photomontages and prints are imbued with visual metaphors from his past in North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Harlem, and from a variety of historical, literary and musical sources.
SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for nearly 60 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at www.sites.si.edu.
About DC Moore Gallery
DC Moore Gallery represents a lively mix of more than 20 contemporary artists, and also offers the finest in 20th century American painting, sculpture and works on paper, including modernism, ashcan, African-American, regionalism, social realism and mid-century abstraction. Founded in 1995, the gallery also represents Bearden’s foundation and estate.
About the Stavros Niarchos Foundation
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is one of the world’s leading international philanthropic organizations, making grants in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and medicine, and social welfare. The foundation funds organizations and projects that exhibit strong leadership and sound management and are expected to achieve a broad, lasting and positive social impact. The foundation also seeks actively to support projects that facilitate the formation of public-private partnerships as effective means for serving public welfare.