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Photographic Portraits and Interviews Capture Defining Moments in the Lives of Prominent African-Americans

HOUSTON.- Bill T. Jones, Colin Powell, Chris Rock, Toni Morrison, Al Sharpton, Richard Parsons, Lorna Simpson, and Thelma Golden are just a few of those whose faces are seen and voices heard in The Black List Project: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell, a highly personal documentary account of being black in America. This August the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, will host the national museum premiere of this project, presenting large-scale portraits of prominent African-Americans by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders along with excerpts from the HBO documentary film The Black List: Volume One, a series of filmed interviews with many of these same figures directed by Greenfield-Sanders and interviewed by Elvis Mitchell. These images, photographic and filmed, form the core of a collaboration between the renowned portrait photographer and legendary film critic that comprises the HBO documentary, the portrait photographs, a touring museum exhibition, and a major book to be published in September 2008 by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.

Organized by Anne Wilkes Tucker, The Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography at the MFAH, The Black List Project: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell will be on view from August 3 to October 26, 2008. Excerpts from The Black List: Volume One, which premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, will play on a consecutive loop in the exhibition gallery. HBO will broadcast the documentary film on Monday, August 25. The MFAH presentation is slated for a national museum tour.

The Black List Project coincides with the MFAH-organized exhibition Houston Collects: African-American Art, which assembles more than 100 works by African-American artists from Houston-area collections, including that of the MFAH.

The Black List: Volume One borrows its title from the infamous 1950s-era dossier of suspected American Communists, playing on the connotations given to the word black through the experiences of 21 extraordinary people. (Four portraits are being added to the Houston exhibition, for a total of 25 on view.) Toni Morrison talks about her absorption with literature as a teenager; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recalls an encounter with Miles Davis; Lou Gossett, Jr., describes how difficult it was for him to find good film roles even after winning an Oscar; Studio Museum director Thelma Golden reflects ruefully on being mistaken for Thelma Golden’s assistant; and Chris Rock satirizes Hollywood’s idea of being African-American.

“The Black List Project offers a unique, candid, and insightful window into the personal stories of some of the leading figures of our time,” commented Peter C. Marzio, MFAH director.

“These intimate portraits transcend racial stereotypes and tell a very American story about the will and determination of creative individuals,” said Tucker. “Timothy Greenfield-Sanders is one of the finest portrait photographers of our time. Since the museum has an important collection of his work, it seemed logical for us to premiere this special collaboration with Elvis Mitchell that expands his oeuvre to include a profound and ambitious social project.”

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ photographic portraits are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Portrait Gallery and the MFAH. A contributing photographer to Vanity Fair, Greenfield-Sanders is also the producer and director of the Grammy-award-winning 1997 film Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart.

Elvis Mitchell has hosted The Treatment since 1996, a radio program produced at NPR affiliate KCRW in Los Angeles and nationally syndicated to 15 markets. Mitchell also serves as entertainment critic for NPR’s Weekend Edition. Previously, he served as film critic for The New York Times, The Forth Worth Star Telegram, Detroit Free Press, and LA Weekly.

The Black List Project: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell will premiere in conjunction with the tenth-annual meeting of the National Alliance of African-American Art Support Groups, an organization of museum support groups as well as patrons, curators, and collectors of African-American art, convened and hosted by the MFAH from July 31 through August 3, 2008.

Photographs in the MFAH presentation, The Black List Project: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell, and the dates the subjects were photographed:

· Bill T. Jones 2007

· Chris Rock 2007

· Colin Powell 2007

· Dawn Staley 2007

· Faye Wattleton 2007

· Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 2007

· Keenen Ivory Wayans 2007

· Lorna Simpson 2007

· Louis Gossett, Jr. 2007

· Mahlon Duckett 2007

· Marc Morial 2007

· Rev. Al Sharpton 2007

· Richard D. Parsons 2007

· Russell Simmons 2007

· Sean Combs 2008

· Serena Williams 2008

· Slash 2007

· Steven Stoute 2007

· Susan Rice 2007

· Suzan-Lori Parks 2007

· Thelma Golden 2006

· Toni Morrison 2007

· Vernon Jordan 2007

· William Rice 2007

· Zane 2007

Houston Collects: African-American Art

The Black List Project will be sited at the entrance to an exhibition showcasing Houston’s remarkable holdings of African-American art, from the late 19th century to the present day. Houston Collects: African American Art, also on view August 3 to October 26, is being organized by Alvia J. Wardlaw, MFAH curator of modern and contemporary art. Both exhibitions will be presented in the expansive Upper Brown Pavilion of the MFAH’s Mies Van der Rohe-designed Caroline Wiess Law Building. Encompassing 120 works dating from the late-19th through the 21st centuries, Houston Collects traces key social and artistic themes of the last 130 years, and explores the broad significance of African-American art to Houston’s cultural history. The exhibition is organized according to eight artistic and historical groupings: early crafts and self-taught artists; Southern academic circles, featuring artists linked to historically black colleges and Texas universities; the Harlem Renaissance; the Civil Rights Movement; abstraction; photography; Houston masters; and the New School, with works created as recently as 2007.

Featured artists include Harlem Renaissance masters Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence; Civil Rights-era artists Mel Edwards, Louise Martin, and Ernest Withers; abstract artist Sam Gilliam; and contemporary artists Thornton Dial, Lorna Simpson, Radcliffe Bailey, Trenton Doyle Hancock, and Otabenga Jones. Texas artists include John Biggers, Kermit Oliver, Bert Long, George Smith, Bert Samples, and David McGee. Gifts and acquisitions to the MFAH collection will be on view along with works from the Menil Collection, the Community Artists’ Collective, and private collections in Houston, many of which will be presented publicly for the first time in this exhibition.

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