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Shades of Black[ness]: Selected Works by African American Artists from the Davison Art Center Collection

Tuesday January 25, 2005 - Thursday March 3, 2005
Shades of Black[ness]: Selected Works by African American Artists from the Davison Art Center CollectionVincent Smith, Getting the Message Across, 1968, pencil drawing

As Professor Peter Mark has observed, the works on view in Shades of Black[ness] "utilize diverse media and they embody almost as many styles as there are artists. Yet each of the artists is or was African-American. And these artworks constitute, in some measure, reflections upon the experience of being a minority artist in America. If this provides a broad unifying theme, the exhibit is nevertheless characterized, above all, by its diversity of expression. For identities are multiple, sometimes overlapping and sometimes discrete. The people who created these works are men and women; they are Americans; they are artists; many but not all are New Yorkers; they are more or less socially committed; and they are African-American."

The styles seen in the exhibition could serve as an overview of American art of the past half century. One found works strongly influenced by Surrealism and Cubism; but there was also the New York School. There was the stolid realism of John Wilson's portrait of Martin Luther King, and the burning irony of Betye Saar's image of Aunt Jemima. There were the in-your-face scatological fairy tales retold by Kara Walker, and the slightly didactic, simplified style of Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden. There were the jazz sounds and the biting social commentary of Vincent Smith, along with the literary allusions of Carrie Mae Weems and Glenn Ligon; and there were the soft-focus, subtle photographs of Roy DeCarava.

In Professor Mark's words, "These voices encompass the history and the cultural achievements of Black Americans--to which the works themselves contribute. The rich diversity of this exhibition shows us that the 'African-American experience' is as varied, as difficult to define, as the experience of any group of human beings."

After closing for Wesleyan's spring break, Shades of Black[ness]reopened for one day on Tuesday 22 March; at a 5:00 p.m. closing reception that day, Professor Mark gave a gallery talk about the exhibition, which was organized by six students in his fall 2004 Wesleyan Art History seminar.

The students who organized this exhibition are Warren Clanton '06, Sarah Johnson '06, Noah Melngailis '07, Laura Sinkman '05, John H. Watson III '06, and Jenny Weinar '06.