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Expansive exhibition of African American art launches season at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg
Jacob Lawrence (American, 1917-2000), Aspirations (1986). Silkscreen. Collection of the Bank of America©2013 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

SAINT PETERSBURG, FL.- Mixing Metaphors: The Aesthetic, the Social and the Political in African American Art, Works from the Bank of America Collection, is truly a gift to the community. It is the largest exhibition of African American art ever presented at the MFA. More than 90 paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, sculptures, and mixed-media works by 36 accomplished artists will be on view from Saturday, October 5, 2013-Sunday, January 5, 2014.

The works are provided by Bank of America’s Art in our Communities Program. MFA exhibitions are sponsored in part by The Stuart Society, and the Tampa Bay Times is the Media Sponsor.

“Communities express timeless and binding ideas through art,” said MFA Director Kent Lydecker. “This exhibition offers insights about our national experience and the world, seen through the lens of contemporary artists of great significance. We are honored to present this compelling exhibition, drawn from an extraordinary collection and curated by one of our country’s distinguished scholars, Dr. Deborah Willis.”

Some of America’s most talented artists are represented, including Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, John Biggers, Sam Gilliam, Jacob Lawrence, Gordon Parks, Martin Puryear, Faith Ringgold, Lorna Simpson, and Carrie Mae Weems. Dr. Willis will present the Wayne W. and Frances Knight Parrish Lecture, “Reading Art as a Metaphor,” at 3 p.m. Sunday, October 6.

“Bank of America knows that not only do the arts create economic value in communities, but they also foster great learning, great thinking and connect us through shared culture and heritage,” said Bill Goede, Tampa Bay Market President, Bank of America. “Through the Art in Our Communities program, we’re excited to bring the Mixing Metaphors exhibition to important cultural anchors like the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.”

Most of the works tell fascinating stories, exploring history, memories, and life today. They are visual metaphors. Jacob Lawrence’s two exceptional prints convey the spirit of the exhibition. His sweeping Forward Together (1997) is a clarion call, encouraging us all to move ahead, while Aspirations (1986) focuses on family life.

Family is viewed by many of these artists as a bedrock and refuge. Lawrence Finney portrays monumental figures protecting their children, and Faith Ringgold’s large-scale story quilt, Coming to Jones Road #3: Aunt Emmy (1999), conveys the centrality of home and family. It also pays tribute to African American quilts, which, in turn, look back to Africa. So, too, do the shotgun houses and figures in John Biggers’ The Four Seasons (1990), inspired by Houston’s Third Ward. Visitors can go from the exhibition in the Hazel Hough Wing to the MFA’s renovated gallery devoted entirely to African art in the original building.

The church has been a major force in African American life, captured brilliantly in Benny Andrews’ Rehearsal (Music Series), 1997. Indeed, music has been and continues to be paramount, with African Americans giving the world some of our most unique art forms—spirituals, the blues, and jazz. Chuck Stewart’s photographs of jazz legends are high points. On the abstract side are Kevin Cole’s lively Jam Session No. 3 (1992) and his mentor Sam Gilliam’s beautifully lyrical Rational Element (1992).

Photographers and TV cameramen brought the Civil Rights Movement into our homes, mobilizing action and change. Memphis-based Ernest C. Withers was called “the official photographer of the Civil Rights Movement.” Six images from his famous I Am A Man portfolio document pivotal moments in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggle as a whole. They are especially moving as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream’” speech.

Strength and perseverance permeate Lorna Simpson’s photogravures of hands, Henry Clay Anderson’s and Dawoud Bey’s images of everyday life, and Gordon Parks’ powerful photograph of a young Muhammad Ali (1970), an American icon. And who can resist Jamel Shabazz’s and Earlie Hudnall Jr.’s photographs of early hip-hop culture?

Mixing Metaphors has punch, spirituality, humanity, visual music—and unforgettable art.

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