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Exhibition explores development of Abstract art through the work of black artists
Jack Whitten. Zen Master. 1968. The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection. © Estate of Jack Whitten.

BALTIMORE, MD.- The Baltimore Museum of Art presents Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art, an exhibition that captures the significant contributions that black artists have made to the development of abstraction from the 1940s to the present. On view September 29, 2019, through January 19, 2020, Generations explores the multifaceted power of abstract art as experimental practice, personal exploration, and profound political choice for decades of black artists. The exhibition features more than 70 paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media installations by such notable artists as Kevin Beasley, Mark Bradford, Sam Gilliam, Jennie C. Jones, Norman Lewis, Lorna Simpson, and Alma W. Thomas. The exhibition is curated by Christopher Bedford, BMA Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director, and Katy Siegel, BMA Senior Research & Programming Curator and Thaw Chair of Modern Art at Stony Brook University.

Drawing on the extensive collection of Pamela J. Joyner and Alfred J. Giuffrida, which is recognized for its unparalleled holdings of works by historic and contemporary black artists, Generations builds on the previously touring Solidary & Solitary exhibition, doubling the show’s scale and scope in the BMA’s expansive galleries with new works from The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection, as well as select objects from the museum’s contemporary collection. The exhibition highlights unexpected resonances and important distinctions between artists, across time and geographic contexts. In addition to in-depth presentations of work by Norman Lewis, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Charles Gaines, Generations provides visitors with in-depth explorations of the work of Alma W. Thomas and Jack Whitten, as well as a broader selection of dialogues that juxtapose works between such artists as Gary Simmons and Lorna Simpson, Melvin Edwards and Leonardo Drew, and Kevin Beasley and Shinique Smith. These pairings are supported by thematic groupings with landmark works by Frank Bowling, Al Loving, Julie Mehretu, Joe Overstreet, and Virginia Jaramillo that emphasize the different processes and materials used in abstraction and how the definition of painting has expanded.

“We find ourselves today in an important moment of cultural reckoning—one in which it is imperative for institutions like the BMA to re-examine the histories of art and to tell a truer and more multidimensional story. In working with the visionary Joyner/Giuffrida Collection, as well as the BMA’s own growing collection, we have an extraordinary opportunity to expand perceptions of what contemporary art was and can be, and celebrate the spectrum and brilliance of artists who have redefined and given depth to abstract art into the present day,” said Siegel. “With this expanded version of the exhibition, we are excited to dive deeper into the material dialogues within and across the work of the featured artists, introducing new audiences to their visions and practices.”

The opening of Generations follows the BMA’s re-conceptualization of its contemporary galleries, in a presentation titled Every Day: Selections from the Collection. The reinstallation highlights major works and several new acquisitions by such visionary artists as Howardena Pindell, David Hammons, Kara Walker, Nari Ward, and Jack Whitten, placing black artistic achievement at the center of a thematic overview of modern and contemporary art. This initiative underscores the BMA’s commitment to collecting and presenting the work of artists that have typically been underrepresented in major institutions and exhibitions.

“The presentation of Generations is part of a broader vision to reshape the idea of the museum—who it belongs to and whom it represents. This effort occurs across our special exhibitions, collecting, and public programs. In this way, we can recognize historical shortcomings, and provide our audiences with a richer, more vibrant, and dynamic picture of art—one that speaks to different communities, perspectives, and realities,” said Christopher Bedford, BMA Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director. “We are very much looking forward to our upcoming exhibitions and to the important conversations they may spur.”

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