ATLANTA, GA.- The High Museum of Art
premiered Something Over Something Else: Romare Beardens Profile Series, the first exhibition to bring dozens of works from the eminent series together since its debut nearly 40 years ago. Following its presentation at the High (Sept. 14, 2019 through Feb. 2, 2020), the exhibition will travel to the Cincinnati Art Museum (Feb. 28May 24, 2020).
In November 1977, The New Yorker magazine published a feature-length biography of Bearden (American, 19111988) by Calvin Tomkins as part of its Profiles series. The article brought national focus to the artist, whose rise had been virtually meteoric since the late 1960s. The experience of the interview prompted Bearden to launch an autobiographical collection he called Profile. He sequenced the project in two parts: Part I, The Twenties, featuring memories from his youth in Charlotte, N.C., and in Pittsburgh, and Part II, The Thirties, about his early adult life in New York. For the series exhibitions in New York in 1978 and 1981, Bearden collaborated with friend and writer Albert Murray on short statements for the pieces, which were scripted onto the walls to lead visitors on a visual and poetic journey through the works.
Inspired by the Highs recent acquisition of a key work from the series, Something Over Something Else is the first exhibition to reassemble more than 30 collages from the series. The exhibition design references the experience of the series original gallery presentations by incorporating their handwritten captions into the accompanying wall texts. The project is co-curated by Stephanie Heydt, the Highs Margaret and Terry Stent Curator of American Art, and Bearden scholar Robert G. OMeally, Zora Neale Hurston professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.
We are privileged to organize Something Over Something Else, which honors Beardens legacy as one of the 20th centurys most influential artists and brings important recognition to this beautiful and powerful series, said Rand Suffolk, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director of the High.
We are very excited to reassemble Beardens original Profile projectand to experience these works along with their captions, presented in the original sequence, said Heydt. Bearden was a wonderful storyteller, and Profile shows Bearden at his best, using words and images to evoke deeply personal memories. But Bearden also invites us all to find something to relate to along the way. There is a poetry in the arrangement of the exhibition that feels unique for Beardens work and this show, which assembles nearly two-thirds of the original group and may be the only opportunity to see those works together again.
Bearden presented the Profile series as a shared historyhis reflection on a life path that follows the journey of migration and transition in black communities across the mid-20th century. The series is an origin story that tracks Beardens transition from rural South to urban North, weaving his personal history into a communal one. Beyond providing the opportunity to explore an understudied body of work, the exhibition investigates the roles of narrative and self-presentation for an artist who made a career of creating works based on memory and experience. It also reveals some of Beardens broader inspirations, which lend insight into American life in the first decades of the 20th century.
Heydt was inspired to develop the exhibition in 2014 when the High acquired Profile/Part II, The Thirties: Artist with Painting & Model (1981), the culminating work in the series and one of Beardens only known self-portraits. The collage, which features prominently in the exhibition, is a retrospective work in which Bearden brings together important memories and spiritual influences from his youth in the South with broader art-historical themes that guided his career for more than four decades.
The exhibition is arranged roughly chronologically according to the original presentations, moving from collages featuring Beardens early memories to works exploring his development as an artist in New York. Thematically, the subjects range from neighbors, friends, music and church to work, play, love and loss. The works also vary greatly in size. Though some are large, many are diminutive, a deliberate choice by Bearden to convey his experience of revisiting childhood memories. In addition to the wall texts by Bearden and Murray, the galleries feature an original copy of The New Yorker article and the catalogues from the 1978 and 1981 gallery exhibitions. The High also show clips from the 1980 documentary Bearden Plays Bearden, directed by Nelson E. Breen.
Featured works include:
Part I, The Twenties:
School Bell Time (1978): this collage is the first work in the exhibition and recalls one of Beardens earliest memories.
Pittsburgh Memories, Mill Hands Lunch Bucket (1978): Based on Beardens memories of the interior of his grandmothers boardinghouse in Pittsburgh, this work inspired playwright August Wilson to write the play Joe Turners Come and Gone. Wilsons stage set description reflects the composition of the collage, and the two main characters in the play were inspired by another painting in the series, Mecklenberg County, Miss Bertha & Mr. Seth (1978).
Pittsburgh Memories, Farewell Eugene (1978): this work features a scene from the funeral of childhood friend who had introduced Bearden to drawing.
Part II, The Thirties:
Pepper Jelly Lady (1981): in this work, Bearden returns to his memories of the South and Mecklenburg County.
Artist with Painting & Model (1981): from the Highs collection, this collage is one of Beardens only known self-portraits and a reminiscence on his studio above the Apollo Theater in Harlem in the 1940s.
Johnny Hudgins Comes On (1981): This work features the famous vaudeville performer. According to Bearden, Hudgins act inspired Beardens own approach to making worlds with his art.
Something Over Something Else: Romare Beardens Profile Series is presented in the special exhibition gallery on the second level of the Highs Stent Family Wing.