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Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announces the U.S. debut of 'Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power'
Benny Andrews, Did the Bear Sit Under a Tree?, 1969. Oil on canvas with painted fabric collage and zipper, 50 x 61 3/4 x 2 1/4 in. Private Collection; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.

BENTONVILLE, ARK.- Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art presents the U.S. debut of Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, on view February 3 through April 23, 2018.

Developed by the Tate Modern in London, Soul of a Nation shines a bright light on the vital contribution of Black artists to an important period in American art and history. Featuring the work of 60 artists and including 164 vibrant paintings, powerful murals, photographs, sculpture, and more, this landmark exhibition is a rare opportunity to see era-defining artworks that changed the face of art in America. Crystal Bridges is one of only two U.S. venues to host Soul of a Nation. Following its debut in Bentonville, the exhibition travels to the Brooklyn Museum in New York.

The variety of artworks in the exhibition reflect the many viewpoints of artists and collectives at work from 1963 to 1983. Soul of a Nation examines the influences, from the civil rights and Black Power movements to Minimalism and abstraction, on artists such as Romare Bearden, Noah Purifoy, Martin Puryear, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, Alma Thomas, Charles White, William T. Williams, and Barkley Hendricks.

“Crystal Bridges welcomes this opportunity to introduce our visitors to artworks created by significant American artists at key moments in our nation’s history, and to tell a more expansive story of American culture,” said Rod Bigelow, Crystal Bridges Executive Director and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. “We look forward to the much-anticipated U.S. debut of the exhibition, and to continuing the dialogue about the role of art in an ever-changing society.”

The exhibition highlights key events, starting with the March on Washington in 1963, and considers cultural influences such as music, literature, and sports, on the artists of the time. Some artists, galvanized by the spirit of the civil rights movement, created images of solidarity, strength, and resistance, or paid homage to legendary African American figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Angela Davis, musician John Coltrane, and sports hero Jack Johnson; while others focused primarily on color, form, and concept.

“We’re thrilled to host this exhibition and recognize these artists for their momentous contributions to American art,” said Crystal Bridges Curator, Contemporary Art, Lauren Haynes. “This is a powerful show that reveals the vastly different ways artist respond to the world around them. We hope our visitors will come away, learning about their new favorite artist and the understanding that there’s no one way to be a Black artist.”

The exhibition is organized into 12 sections, grouped by movements, geography, galleries, collectives, or the overall exploration of what it meant to be a Black artist during this time. A link to the exhibition guide with section descriptions is available for download here.

The first section is dedicated to the formation of Spiral, a group of artists who assembled in New York to work out a shared position on what it meant to make art during the civil rights movement, and concludes with Just Above Midtown, a revolutionary gallery with the goal of giving a platform to the Black avant-garde.

The artists represented in the exhibition come from all over the U.S., with rooms devoted to groups such as AfriCOBRA, based in Chicago in the late 1960s, or East Coast Abstraction, which challenged the idea that art had to directly represent Black communities, prompting debate about Black aesthetics. One room is completely dedicated to Betye Saar, a visionary artist whose work often focuses on mysticism, gender, and race. This includes a mixed media assemblage, Gelede, 1971, recently acquired by Crystal Bridges.

Along with Betye Saar’s Gelede, the exhibition includes Elizabeth Catlett’s Black Unity from the Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection Saar will be among the artists participating in the Soul of a Nation: Artists in Conversation Symposium on Saturday, February 3. The program will include artists and curators reflecting on art, politics, music, and community in the age of Black Power. Though the symposium is sold out, the event will be livestreamed for all to enjoy. Visit the website to learn more about livestream options.

Haynes adds, “In addition to the exhibition opening this weekend, 15 of the artists from Soul of a Nation will be participating in the day-long symposium. This is rare opportunity for visitors to hear directly from the artists and a chance to lift up multiple voices, allowing for a deeper understanding of the artwork and the artists’ unique experiences.”

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