Tuesday, March 30, 2010

21st Annual James A. Porter Colloquium on African American Art

Established at Howard University in 1990 by Floyd Coleman, the James A. Porter Colloquium on African American Art is named in honor of James A. Porter (see photograph), the pioneering Art Historian and Professor. Porter's 1943 publication, Modern Negro Art, laid the foundation for the field of study. Floyd Coleman will be one of the 2010 Honorees at the Annual Colloquium Benefit Gala.

The Theme for the 21st Annual James A. Porter Colloquium is FEARLESS: Risk Takers, Rule Breakers, and Innovators in African American Art and Art of the African Diaspora. This is an excellent opportunity for art historians, artists, critics, curators, collectors, interdisciplinary scholars, museum professionals, gallery owners, librarians/archivists, students, and the general public to support and be engaged in the documentation of African American art and visual culture.

The three-day program, sponsored by the Howard University Department of Art is presented in conjunction with The David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora and the Howard University Gallery of Art, will examine the theme - FEARLESS - by focusing on “issues and ideas that reveal how this drive, impulse, and attitude often propel artists to break the rules, invent new aesthetics, and resist reductive categories that seek to marginalize them and their work. Papers and presentations will interrogate and re-contextualize the critical roles of courageous resistance and willful exuberance in spite of political, economic, and social realities.”

Dates: April 15 – 17, 2010

Place: Howard University, Armour J. Blackburn Center, Washington, DC           General admission is free, but registration is requested.

Register: http://jamesaportercolloquium.org/docs/Registration.html

Honorees: The Annual Colloquium Benefit Gala will honor Peggy Cooper Cafritz, Elizabeth Catlett, Floyd Coleman, and Jeff Donaldson (posthumously). 

Keynote Address: Renee Cox

Speakers: Jacqueline Francis and Okwui Enwezor

Contact: Portercolloquium.org@gmail.com

Telephone: 202/ 806-6171

For the full Colloquium schedule and highlight information on honorees and speakers, follow these links: http://www.jamesaportercolloquium.org/program.html and


Cancellation Update: The Distinguish Lecture in the Visual Arts in Honor of David C. Driskell with Elizabeth Catlett has been canceled. See NEWS at the David Driskell Center: http://www.driskellcenter.umd.edu/

Further Readings: This brief section provides additional selective information regarding James A. Porter and his accomplishments, and reviews from the time period that Modern Negro Art was published. There is a short biographical sketch on James A. Porter at the Black Renaissance in Washington, 1920-1930s Web site; a site that was created through a Carnegie Foundation grant awarded to the District of Columbia Public Library. 

The following three reviews, which were written during the time period that Modern Negro Art was published, are reflective of its immediate positive reception. The first review, written by Carter G. Woodson, appeared in "The Journal of Negro History," (volume XXIX, No. 2, April 1944). Woodson states "This book, on the whole, well deserves the designation of being one of permanent value. It comes to support the Negroes' claim in art just as works like those of Maud Cuney-Hare and other productions have established beyond a doubt the rightful place of the Negro in music. ...The Negro's heritage...will eventually influence those of esthetic bent to greater achievement. It does not matter so much what the medium of expression may be, the impression has been made through the years of the ordeal through which the Negroes have borne their trials and tribulations, and from the portrayal of these afflictions will come masterpieces."

Allan Freelon, in his role as Special Consultant in Art, Philadelphia Public Schools, reviewed Modern Negro Art in the spring 1944 issue (vol. XIII, no.2) of "The Journal of Negro Education." Freelon states that "Mr. Porter's research has been painstaking and thorough, bringing together in one volume, personalities, who generally were unknown beyond the limits of their immediate locale until the appearance of this volume. He skillfully integrates these artists and artist craftsmen into their time and place in the American scene; the economic and social development of the period under discussion always being shown as influencing their development or arresting their growth." In closing remarks of his review, Freelon praises the book as a
"scholarly work, fully documented with profuse footnotes...that should prove valuable to all students of Negro art and culture. Modern Negro Art is a must for all Americans interested in the cultural development of their country." 

The final review by Constance H. Curtis (New York Amsterdam News, November 6, 1943) has foresight in its expressed assessment that "Porter has written a workmanlike and unprejudiced volume, which will serve for a good many years both as a guide and a commentary on Negro art."  These were simply a few of the reviews praising this publication.

Be a part of the continual dialogue on African American art by attending and supporting FEARLESS: Risk Takers, Rule Breakers, and Innovators in African American Art and Art of the African Diaspora at the 21st Annual James A. Porter Colloquium on African American Art at Howard University.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Silent Voice that Roars / by Max Eternity, Guest Writer

As I stood in the midst of 4 rooms filled with works of art, all created by women, The Silent Voice that Roars, that’s what came to mind. I was attending the opening night reception of an exhibition at AVISCA fine art gallery, entitled "A Woman's Work."

Located in suburban Atlanta, the venue--owned and operated by women, whose director is Byrma Braham, a native of Jamaica--is a contemporary fine art gallery specializing in artworks created by black artist in the Americas, Africa and the Caribbean. In this month--Women's History Month--such an eclectic show hosted in a uniquely intimate, elegant space, bears testament to the will of women of color--their ability to survive, create, contemplate and celebrate. 

April Harrison, "Side by Side"

Take for instance South Carolina native, April Harrison. The three pieces that she’s exhibiting are mixed-media paintings in acrylic, watercolor, magazine print, old coins and other conjured material, featuring women and young girls unafraid to express their autonomy, independence and sass. The ladies depicted in Harrison's creations are a perfect parallel to her sophisticated use of substrate--a complex layering of paint on canvas with appliqu├ęs in found objects, re-purposed as funky belt buckles, earrings and necklaces.

April Harrison's "Satisfied" (Detail)

Harrison's aesthetic is a rather painterly form of realism built upon figural stylizations that echo high-art illustrations, whereupon the shape of each person in her portraits are painted in a perspective, so that the women and girls framed within are deliberately placed well above the expected horizon, thus directing the eye of each viewer to gaze upward at the inspiring, color-filled bodies and faces. Through the hand of the artist, a relationship between gazer and subject matter easily develops, inviting admirers to experience a welcoming presence of humble grandeur, dignity and beauty. Of the women who have inspired Harrison throughout her life, she says "women contribute so much to society, yet they are expected to be silent...still, the powerful imprint of women is everywhere, as mothers, leaders, innovators and pioneers."           

“Grace under Pressure” by Teri Richardson

Hanging from above or suspended upon a wall, Teri Richardson’s sculptural collages in recycled denim capture the imagination, as does the Modern-esque paintings of Grace Kisa, whose harmonized, color-field abstractions in 2-D seem a lovely, visual throwback to the palette and playfulness of Jean Miro—also taking design cues from the carved massings of Dame Barbara Hepworth.

Grace Kiza, "One Last Victory"

Yet even in the more abstract works, so much of the narrative seen in this thoughtfully-curated collection of sculpture, mix-media, paintings, drawings and prints, is exactly like the real-life narrative of everyday women who often ask themselves, am I beautiful enough, where do I fit in, do I have a right to be heard, why am I judged by the way I look, not the way I am, and why can’t I be intelligent, pretty AND strong?

One exhibitor who has answers to many of these questions is D. Lammie-Hanson, a multi-disciplined artist born and raised in Harlem, New York. In her artist statement she says “My approach to most of the work that I create is a cross between socio-psychology experiment and storytelling. I focus on the beauty of womanhood without the traditional superficial trappings of appearance. In my paintings, I try to capture the woman’s true light… her personality and her soul.”

D. Lammie Hanson, "Upward Thoughts"
This is exactly what she does in a large 42in x 42in painting rendered on recycled tarp. In the painting, bubbling monochromatic color swirls about—baby blue to a more electric hue—coming together to form the face of a delightfully, beautiful woman. With an elegant dancer’s neck, the woman’s head gently arches to the side, expressing all at once, a state of sorrow, love, meditation, understanding and bliss. Looking it over, I see a soul laid bare, residing in a place of knowing.

The piece is called “Upward Thoughts.”

Another woman whose work caught my eye is Jean Chiang, a Chinese-American. Chiang sews lines of colored beads on canvas, which are patterned in an orchestrated fashion, reminiscent of abacus arrangements. Like Hanson, Chiang is also from New York, having grown up in the back of a Chinese Laundry.

Jean Chiang, "How Many Times 

I was a bit confused when I first saw Chiang’s work, and I couldn’t get over the attentiveness to the detail in each of the pieces—the stillness and the silence--until I discovered that she has an interest in architecture, anthropology and archaeology. Then it all made sense, the way she constructs “historical” micro-sites, literally weaving and building her paintings as discovered artifacts, grounding each into a place of permanence. The work is here and now, but it also informs of some mysterious past. So evident is this in her diptych entitled “Inner Landscape”, created from acrylic, embroidery and beading on canvas.

What a beautiful contemplation.

And that’s just it; the lights are on, shining bright, but not glaring. Wisdom is in all these exhibiting women’s minds, such as Zoya Taylor who paints her women proportioned as dolls—oversized heads with expressive world-weary, saucer-sized eyes of elders. Taylor’s take on the human imagination is that “We all have a cast of characters that define our lives…personal demons or angels--spiritual or not, there’s a commonality in these characters. They draw on human themes of secrecy, pride and hurt, but also humor and love.”

Zoya Taylor, "Always a Bridesmaid"

Contact AVISCA at 770.977.2732, or visit online at http://www.aviscafineart.com/. “A Woman’s Work” runs through April 9th, 2010.

Guest Writer:
Max Eternity, Editor and Publisher of Art Digital Magazine and contributing writer to Artworks Magazine, is a polymath who creates innovative print types reflecting the Bauhaus and Mid-Century Modernism. Via a network of informational web portals, he advocates for artistic and social concerns ranging from architectural preservation and digital literacy to government transparency and the Afro-Euro fine art construct. Eternity is the author of the successful 17-page nomination of Marcel Breuer’s final architectural design--the Atlanta-Fulton Central Public Library--to the World Monuments Fund, making that site the youngest building to be placed on their registry. In 2008, Eternity exhibited at Atlanta’s City Gallery East in the “Pin-up” show. Also that year he exhibited in Beijing, China, in a group show at the Haun Tie Museum. In July 2010 he will exhibit in a touring exhibition entitled "Homage", to be launched at The California Art Institute at San Diego. Contact Max at eternityatlanta@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Milton 510 Experience: Artist Talk

Community    Journaling     Celebration    Iconic Figures    

Hip Hop    Motown     History      Sports    Music    

Spiritual    Shared Conversation    Documentation

Harlem Renaissance   Oakland    Richmond 

"Visual fine art is the preservation of culture."
 More information regarding The Milton 510 Experience and the series of five (5) exhibitions will be featured in the coming weeks.
      Milton Bowens (Milton 510)

Listen to: http://www.milton510.com/510Exp.html regarding The Milton 510 Experience.

Friday, March 5, 2010

An Open Letter: James Porter Archival Collection Auctioned ($50,400)

Dear Artists, Art Historians, Art Critics, Art Collectors…,

We all have an accumulation of papers, notes, cards, photographs, letters, emails, journals, diaries, memorabilia, receipts, drafts of publications, artist statements, thoughts, ideas, wishes, dreams, contracts, applications, and etc...; all of which document our role and activities in the art world. The accumulation of these items define to varying degrees the role that we have played and the impact that we have had in strengthening African American art or even the broader American art scene. Our individual or collective  involvement could be directly related to creating fine art; defining, capturing, and interpreting art history; collecting fine art; building a collection of fine art books and other print media; and capturing oral histories. Our "stuff and things" are a part of the materials that document our involvement in the fine arts, and they can serve as a catalyst to document the culture, history, and role of a people.

Archival collections are the basic and essential means to examine the past. By looking at old documents through contemporary eyes allow us to reacquaint ourselves with past documentation and possibly discover that which has been historically unseen or even unappreciated. Through these documents there is always a relevancy from the past to the present that has the potential to raise questions on historical views, answer our questions of those past histories, and point us in the right direction. As an art librarian, I have noticed a historic gap in the documentation of the presence and role of the black artist in the field of the visual arts, particularly in comparison to other fields of study, such as music and the other performing arts. I refer to this gap and lack of documentation in the visual arts as the missing link in the history of African American history and culture.

All of us who are actively involved in the visual arts have the foundation of an archival collection and the contents of that collection, consisting of notes on pieces of paper, letters to friends, family, and acquaintances, receipts, doodles, drafts of articles, legal documents, contracts, and the like, could be very valuable pieces of documentation that might help connect dots relating to our involvement in the art world. For instance, letters, both personal and professional, can reflect years of friendship, years of mentoring, and years of making memories.

Because of my training and close work with archivists and archives, I was very interested in one of the lots auctioned in the Swann Galleries, African Americana 2010 Auction on February 25, 2010. I am referring to the James Porter Archival Collection, Lot 141 (Swann Galleries) http://catalogue.swanngalleries.com/asp/search.asp?pg=15&ps=10. Such a body of material, as the Porter Archival Collection, adds a substantial body of creditable documentation to the existing body of literature documenting the role of black art and the historical role of blacks in American art that is currently available in Special Collections (Libraries and Archives) around the country. The Porter Collection fills a much needed gap in the history of the visual arts. Its value far exceeds the $50,400 (inclusive of Buyer's Premium) realized cost from the auction. 

Few of us would question the necessity for collecting materials from the past and having them organized and accessible so that current and future researchers may use those materials to further studies in this field. But it is unsettling to think that collections such as this (Porter Archival Collection) could end up in private hands simply as a potential monetary investment. My hope is that these materials have found a home in which they will be preserved for posterity, making them accessible to the larger public, and in so doing furthering the documentation of not only African American art, but enhancing the broader field of American visual art. I remain hopeful that the collection has been acquired by an institution that values and supports the importance of documentation, and one that supports and encourages research and investigation that allows the accurate presentation of the role of black art/artists in the overall history of American art.

As an African American artist, historian, critic, collector, and etc. have you personally thought of how your collection of materials, the "stuff and things," will be archived? Lets pause to think how we might further the cause of African American art by finding an institutional home for future materials that may come up for auction or simply start the thinking process of where we will  place our materials.

Rayford W. Logan, former historian and professor at Howard University is attributed to saying, “black history was lost, strayed, or stolen.” So it is important for institutions to provide a home for those “lost” pieces as they are found; to provide balanced information for that history that has “strayed;” and to help researchers correct through revisionist history that which was “stolen.” The retrieval of this history and the accurate interpretation of it, including the visual arts will revolutionize education at all levels by adding new information, new questions, and new energy to a traditional perspective of our fine art history.

© 2010 Black Art Project... all rights reserved. For permission to reproduce contact: blackartproject@comcast.net.