Monday, June 17, 2019

Where to Be Merry: Soul of a Nation - "Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983" @ Broad Museum (Los Angeles)

The Merriment: A temporary art exhibition featuring the work of 60+ black artists, spanning two decades, from 1963 to 1983

The Location: Downtown

The Vibes: Educational, inspiring, thought-provoking, emotional

Good for: Alone, dates, groups (small and large), all ages

When-To-Go: Tuesday – Sunday (museum closed Mondays); FREE exhibition entry on Thursdays

The $$ Factor: $18, Adults; $12, Students with valid ID; Free for kiddies 17 and under

The Names behind the scenes: Artists including Betye Saar, David Hammons, Dawoud Bey, Roy DeCarava, Wadsworth Jarrell and so many more

The 4-1-1: General admission to the Broad Museum is free, but entrance into Soul of a Nation isn’t; purchase tickets in advance online to avoid lengthy lines to enter the museum! It’s also worth checking out the permanent exhibition on the top floor. There’s hundreds of art from famous artists such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and from other #WilsonsGuide favorites like Kerry James Marshall

Parking Situation: Nearby garage parking for a fee

I’ll Be Back…: For the jazz nights and gallery talks throughout the summer!

My invite for the grand opening of Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983 exhibition at the Broad Museum on March 23 — which just so happened to have The Carters and Ava DuVernay attend — *clearly* got lost in the mail (hey, it happens). So even though I really wasn’t invited didn’t have the opportunity to see the exhibition when it first opened, I made it a priority to stop by, during a recent trip back down to L.A.

Located on the first floor of the Broad Museum in DTLA, Soul of a Nation gives us access to hundreds of pieces of artwork created by more than 60 black artists, spanning two decades, between 1963 and 1983. From black-and-white photographs to colorful collages, larger-than-life paintings and complex sculptures, all types of art — big, small, traditional, abstract and everything in between — grace the space. The exhibition’s layout is chronological, neatly arranged into 12 different rooms. Each room represents a particular artistic style, time period and/or geographical region(s). We begin our journey in the “Spiral” room, with artwork from the Spiral Group that formed in 1963, and we wrap up in the “Just Above Midtown” room, which touts artists who were part of the Just Above Midtown art gallery in NYC, during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Fortunately, you can revisit rooms along the way, in case you want to catch another glimpse of a particular piece.

Similar to how the mediums are quite diverse — from photos to oil paints — so too, are the various subjects that each artist focuses on. Artist Betye Saar pays reverent homages to spiritual rituals of ancestors while others like Wadsworth Jarrell proudly portray prominent leaders, like Malcolm X in his Black Prince portrait (1971). Even mundane moments in every day life and ordinary people are captured, such as Emma Amos’ oil-on-canvas depiction of Eva the Babysitter (1973). pictured below.

Many pieces evoke strong emotional feelings, as they highlight many of the injustices blacks endured throughout our country's history. Anger, shock and disbelief engulfed me, as I viewed the inhumane mistreatment of the man in David Hammons’ Injustice Case (1970) faces. He’s gagged and hands bound behind his back while sitting in a chair — exactly how Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale was handled during his 1969 trial. With pieces such as Black First, America Second (1970), pictured below, Hammons’ also has us considering how to construct our identity: why must one identity come before the other? Will this order ever change? Who decides when/if it does?

In addition to the variety of mediums and subject matters sourced, there’s also a variety of geographical locations represented, from Chicago to New York and Los Angeles.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the various rooms within the exhibition:
  • Spiral – Showcases artwork from the 15-member Spiral Group, formed in 1963, right before the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
  • Art on the Street – Has artwork such as magazine covers and collages, from artists involved in Chicago’s Organization of Black American Culture and from Oakland’s Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.
  • Figuring Black Power – Highlights works from the Black Arts Movement, which stemmed from the Black Power movement and originated in the northeast U.S., eventually spreading throughout the nation.
  • AfriCOBRA in Chicago – The African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists — a.k.a., AfriCOBRA — was a Chicago-based artist collective focusing on the Black family, leveraging bright colors and incorporating text and mosaic-like shapes into its art. Below is Jarrell’s portrayal of Malcolm X, in Black Prince, that I previously referred to.

  • Black Light – Shows off brilliant black-and-white photographs from Roy DeCarava, the first director of the Kamoinge Workshop formed in 1963, and other photographers like Dawoud Bey. 
  • Los Angeles Assemblage – Includes sculptures made by various L.A. artists in the aftermath of the 1962 Nation of Islam Mosque police shooting and 1965 Watts Rebellion.
  • Three Graphic Artists – Reveals the works of Charles White, David Hammons and Timothy Washington, initially shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
  • East Coast Abstraction – Reveres artists hailing from New York City and Washington, D.C. like Ed Clark and William T. Williams, who focused on abstract painting in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
  • Black Portraits – Displays artists who intentionally depicted portraits of Black Americans, from all walks of life. This was probably my favorite room, which includes one of my favorites, Barkley Hendricks’ What’s Going On (1974), which is a direct response to the Marvin Gaye song with the same name.

  • Improvisation and Experimentation – Follows the evolution of abstract art in the early 1970s, which included incorporating mixed media techniques by artists like Alma Thomas.
  • Betye Saar – Presents three-dimensional pieces by the L.A.-based artist Betye Saar, who blends technology and historic items within her art.
  • Just Above Midtown – Features works from this nonprofit art gallery that operated in the ‘70s and ‘80s to support and amplify contemporary Black artists’ works.
All in all, Soul of a Nation captures a multitude of interpretations of the black experience not only during these two decades, but also from past centuries and even the potential future. It’s interesting how so many of these pieces feel are so incredibly timeless and still relatable to this day, sometimes unfortunately so. For example, as depicted in Benny Andrews' Did the Bear Sit Under the Tree (1969), aren't we still fighting our country for basic rights such as equality? 

So the next time you’re looking to dive into art for a few hours, learning more about black experiences captured in incredible, creative ways and the rise of black artistry throughout the '60s through '80s, stop by this beautiful exhibition. But don’t wait too long; Soul of a Nation is only here for a few more months, until September 1, 2019.

See you there soon!

For more information:

What's going on is sourced from The Atlantic

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