Dawoud Bey's 'Night Coming Tenderly, Black' photography series on view at the Brandywine River Museum of Art

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Dawoud Bey's 'Night Coming Tenderly, Black' photography series on view at the Brandywine River Museum of Art
Dawoud Bey (b. 1953), Night Coming Tenderly, Black: Untitled #24 (At Lake Erie), 2017, gelatin silver print, 44 x 55 in. Brandywine River Museum of Art. Purchased with Museum funds, 2022. © Dawoud Bey, courtesy of Rena Bransten Gallery

CHADDS FORD, PA.- The Brandywine River Museum of Art recntly opened Dawoud Bey: Night Coming Tenderly, Black. The exhibition features a selection of 10 photographs from Bey’s critically acclaimed series from 2017 that imagines the flight of enslaved African American fugitives in the mid-nineteenth century traveling along the last part of an Underground Railroad network. On view in the Brandywine’s Strawbridge Family Gallery through August 31, 2022, the exhibition will have particular resonance for the Brandywine region, given the many local sites that were active stations of the Underground Railroad network.

Regarded as one of the most important photographers working today, Dawoud Bey (b. 1953) is recognized for his compelling, large-scale portraits and street photographs of marginalized people and communities that he began in the 1970s. Inspired by artist Roy DeCarava (1919—2009), Bey has been photographing the Black community in Harlem where he was born, and Queens where he grew up, for over four decades. For his Night Coming Tenderly, Black series, Bey photographed landscapes (the artist’s first) in Ohio moving northward towards Lake Erie, on the other side of which lay Canada and freedom. The artist presents a narrative that instills in the viewer a visceral sensation of moving surreptitiously through an unknown nocturnal landscape—what it would feel like to encounter thick forests, open creeks and marshes, and to come upon fenced property and houses—the only signifiers of human presence in these photographs. He imagines too the overwhelming sense of vulnerability.

As Bey said about the series, “…the challenge of making history visible was different, because the exact movement of fugitive slaves across the American landscape had—for reasons of their very survival—to remain secret. This mystery allowed me the conceptual space to reimagine what that movement might have been, how it might have looked and felt.” To convey nighttime, Bey created silver gelatin photographs printed in luscious black and gray tones and adopted a large-scale format to immerse the viewer in the landscape. The title of the series was inspired by Dream Variations (published 1926), a poem by Langston Hughes.

The photography exhibition coincides with the Brandywine’s opening of Gatecrashers: The Rise of the Self-Taught Artist in America, on view May 28 through September 5, 2022. Gatecrashers celebrates two dozen early-twentieth century painters who fundamentally changed the art world. These artists, all without formal training, diversified the field across lines of race, ethnicity, class, gender and ability. Featuring more than 60 works, this exhibition examines how self-taught artists “crashed the gates” of the elite art world after World War I and the remarkable ways in which they reshaped the notion of who could be called an artist in the United States.

Gatecrashers is organized by the High Museum of Art and curated by Katherine Jentleson, the High’s Curator of Folk and Self-Taught Art. The exhibition includes works by renowned painters such as Horace Pippin, Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses and John Kane, as well as by artists who are lesser known now but were recognized in their day, including Morris Hirshfield, Josephine Joy, Lawrence Lebduska, Patrick Sullivan and 17 others.

“Gatecrashers offers a fascinating new perspective on how self-taught artists were perceived and elevated in the years between World War I and II,” said Thomas Padon, the James H. Duff Director of the Brandywine River Museum of Art. “During this period, the work of self-taught artists was thought to embody a more direct experience of American life. The exhibition reveals how this group brought a heretofore unknown degree of diversity to the inner sanctums of museums and galleries in this country.” Padon added, “The exhibition provides such a fascinating context to the Brandywine’s own holdings of self-taught artists.”

The Brandywine River Museum of Art is the second stop for this traveling exhibition. Gatecrashers previously debuted at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA, and the tour will conclude at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, PA. This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and The Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation. At Brandywine, Gatecrashers is sponsored by Chase. Additional support is provided by the Matz Family Charitable Fund; Mr. and Mrs. Anson McC. Beard Jr.; and the Fawcett Family Foundation.

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