All posts in “roy decarava”

Muse/News: SAM opens up, the Burke goes “inside out,” and art history’s blind spots

SAM News

Recently, SAM announced that the Asian Art Museum will reopen to the public on February 8, 2020. Curbed Seattle and NW Asian Weekly both wrote about the building project, which “gives the historic building both a home of its own and a stronger connection to the park around it.”

Local News

Last week, city council candidates appeared at Town Hall to talk arts policy. The Stranger’s Rich Smith—and candidate Alex Pedersen’s “art tie”—were there.

Dinosaurs, but make it fashion: Seattle Met presents their fall fashion editorial set amongst the new digs (get it?) of the Burke Museum.

And the Seattle Times has wrap-around coverage on the new Burke, including a story from Brendan Kiley, photos, video, and graphics to get you ready to explore.

“This Burke, director Julie K. Stein says, isn’t just a new museum. It’s a new breed of museum, imagined and designed with the incantation ‘inside-out.’”

Inter/National News

Fred Armisen is an art aficionado. No, really! Hyperallergic explores his segments on Late Night with Seth Meyers in which he shares his knowledge of literally “every painting that has ever been painted.”

Here’s the New York Times’ Roberta Smith on the new Roy DeCarava retrospective at David Zwirner; his photographs, she says, “constantly flip between visual fact and a metaphor for difference of all kinds.”

In Artforum’s October issue, Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen reflects on the recent exhibitions Posing Modernity and Black Models, together “one of the most consequential events to take place in the field of nineteenth-century art in Euro-America in recent decades.”

“Murrell achieved something more profound, and more challenging, than archival ‘discovery.’ Her exhibition placed the past blindnesses of art history on very public view, making devastatingly clear the remedial nature of the lesson in seeing required by this discipline—a lesson that could be encapsulated in a question as elementary as: Tell me, class, how many figures are in this picture?”

And Finally

I keep thinking about this squirrel.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: © Tim Griffith
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Object of the Week: Man and Girl at Crossing

Born in Harlem in 1919, Roy DeCarava came of age amid the flourishing artistic activity of the Harlem Renaissance. Trained as a painter, he would not take his first photograph until the late 1940s, and even then it was to assist his painting practice. However, DeCarava soon turned exclusively to photography, using the medium to produce a record of everyday Black life in Harlem.

In 1952, DeCarava became the first Black artist to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship in photography. A series of photographs—“subdued pictures of everyday Harlem existence, from intimate family moments to street play and subway gloom”—were made using the grant, and would eventually be published in 1955 with accompanying text by Langston Hughes in The Sweet Flypaper of Life.[1]

DeCarava, also a musician, would go on to photograph many jazz greats like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Thelonious Monk, seeking to create a visual equivalent of jazz’s improvisational structure and off-time beat. The artist considered the camera, like the piano, to be an instrument of expressive potential, and mobilized it as a tool. The relationship he saw between jazz and photography hinged on the belief that “in between that one-fifteenth of a second, there is a thickness.”[2]

For the artist, photography was a way to counter his observation that “black people were not being portrayed in a serious and artistic way.”[3] As a result, his images illustrate ordinary Black life perceptively and immediately. His pictures are thoughtful and considered—often exploring light and shadow to assist in his subtly dramatic compositions.

In Man and Girl at Crossing from 1978, we see just how sensitive DeCarava was to the quiet and contemplative moments that surrounded him. It’s an uneventful scene—a man and a young girl wait to cross Schenectady Avenue in East Flatbush. Brooklyn had seen a rainy day that day, and the gloom sits heavy on the wet cement and asphalt. Framed by the crosswalk and sidewalk before them, the two figures are powerfully silhouetted—paused in a still moment of togetherness before continuing on their way.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection & Provenance Associate


[1] Alan Thomas, “Literary Snapshots of the Sho-Nuff Blues,” In These Times, March 27–April 2, 1985, 20.
[2] Randy Kennedy, “Roy DeCarava, Harlem Insider Who Photographed Ordinary Life, Dies at 89,” New York Times, October 28, 2009, accessed June 13, 20169, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/29/arts/29decarava.html.
[3] Randy Kennedy, “Roy DeCarava, Harlem Insider Who Photographed Ordinary Life, Dies at 89.”
Image: Man and Girl at Crossing, 1978, Roy DeCarava, gelatin silver photograph, 13 x 8 15/16 in., Gift of the American Telephone and Telegraph Co., 82.61 © Roy DeCarava
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Go Tell It: Civil Rights Photography at Seattle Art Museum

SAM is highlighting a series of documentary photographs exploring the lived experiences of African American men and women during the Civil Rights era, featuring major works from the collection by artists including Dan Budnik, Danny Lyon, Roy deCarava, Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand, Marion Post Wolcott, and others. The exhibition includes a photo series capturing Martin Luther King Jr.’s march to Montgomery, a stark image of man entering the “colored” entrance of a movie theater in Jim Crow Mississippi, a powerful image of a black nanny holding a white baby, and lithographic renderings of mugshots that reclaim these stigmatizing documentary portraits.

James Baldwin by Joseph Norman

As a contemporary counterpart to these historical works, the exhibition also features a work by Philadelphia-based interdisciplinary artist, Shikeith, called #Blackmendream. In this documentary video, the artist interviews nine young black men, their bare backs turned to the camera as they answer questions such as: “When did you become a black man? Do you cry? How were you raised to deal with your emotions?”. The resulting film is a poetic take on what it means to occupy a black body today, and an exploration of the emotional lives of black men. The hashtag in the film’s title is an invitation for viewers to respond to the artist’s questions themselves, and to continue discussions about what is happening to people of color in the country today.

Go Tell It: Civil Rights Photography is now on view in the Knight | Lawrence Gallery at the Seattle Art Museum through January 8, 2017.

Images: Joyous Southern Christian Leadership Conference Marchers Outside Jefferson Davis Hotel, Montgomery, Alabama, March 25th, 1965, 1965, Dan Budnick, American, b. 1933, photograph, 11 x 14 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Benham Gallery and Dan Budnik, 2000.42., © Dan Budnik. James Baldwin, 1986, Joseph Norman, 10 x 8 in., lithograph, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Joseph A. Chazan, 2000.26, © Joseph Norman.
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