FOR ALMOST 50 YEARS, “Three Folk Musicians” by Romare Bearden (1911-1988) have been presented at major exhibitions of the artist’s works hosted by the best museums in the country. One of his most famous and recognizable solo works, a collage painting from 1967, was featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1971 exhibition, “Romare Bearden: The Universality of Ritual.” The show then hit the road, traveling to the National Gallery of Fine Arts in Washington (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum), the University of California, Berkeley, the Pasadena Museum of Art, the Atlanta College of Art, and North Carolina. . Raleigh Museum of Art.
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In 1991, “Three Folk Musicians” was featured in the series “Memory and Metaphor: The Art of Romare Bearden 1940-1987” organized by the Harlem Studio Museum. The artist had died a few years earlier and this was the first comprehensive review of his work since the exhibition organized by MoMA. By 1993, “Memory and Metaphor” was presented in five additional venues—the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Wight Gallery in Los Angeles, the High Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, and the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. (now Smithsonian American). picture gallery).
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ROMARE BEARDEN, “Three Folk Strings”, 1967 (collage of various papers with paint and graphite on canvas). 50 x 60 inches | © Romare Bearden Foundation / licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo: Travis Fullerton ©Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Later in the same decade, a detail of Bearden’s collage was featured on the cover of Sharon F. Patton’s African-American Art, published in 1998 as part of the Oxford History of Art series. The painting was also featured in “The Art of Romare Bearden,” a major retrospective organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 2003, the first major museum solo exhibition of an African-American artist. “The Art of Romare Bearden” traveled throughout 2005 to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the High Museum.
Each time, the collage was generously loaned or licensed for use by a private collector. A prized painting, it would make an important addition to any museum’s collection. After two generations of private ownership, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond has announced the purchase of Bearden’s “Three Folk Musicians.”
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In a post, VMFA director Alex Nyerges described Bearden’s collage as “monumental.” He added, “‘Three Folk Musicians’ supports our efforts to represent diverse cultures in our galleries and allows us to explore all of America’s stories with rich context and a wide eye.”
“Three folk musicians support our efforts to represent diverse cultures in our galleries and allow us to explore all of America’s stories with rich context and a wide eye.” — Alex Nyerges, Director, VMFA
“This is not just any Romare Bearden,” Michael R. Taylor, chief curator and associate director of arts and education, told Virginia Public Radio. “This has long been considered one of the icons of African American art.”
File:folk Artist With An Accent Music Instrument.jpg
The announcement of Bearden’s purchase comes in conjunction with Black History Month. To celebrate, VMFA installed approximately 35 works by African-American artists from its collection in its second-floor galleries. The 19th-20th century selection includes a Bearden collage and works by Edward Bannister, Henry O. Tanner, Aaron Douglas, Palmer Hayden, Beauford Delaney, Norman Lewis, Eldzier Cortor, Sam Gilliam, Jack Whitten, Mickalene Thomas, Julie Mehretu. Gates and Titus Kaphar among others.
Bearden’s collage was acquired in December and was unveiled on February 1 in the museum’s mid-to-late 20th century galleries. The work is on view for a limited time until March 6, 2017.
“Three Folk Strings” features two guitarists and one banjo player. The large-scale work combines layers of hand-painted paper and magazine photos. It is a sophisticated color combination influenced by cubist collage.
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According to the VMFA: “After working in mixed media in the 1940s, Bearden began experimenting with collage techniques in the late 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1963 that he began creating his best-known vividly colored compositions depicting African American life. .” That year, he co-founded Spiral, a short-lived group of prominent African-American artists formed before the March on Washington to explore their role in the civil rights movement.
When Carroll Greene organized “The Prevalence of Ritual” at MoMA, he spent countless hours with Bearden discussing his life and work. She thanked him for his time in the show’s catalog. The picture in the catalog of “Three Folk Musicians” is described in Bearden’s own words: “In the 1920s, during the great migration of blacks from the South to the big cities, my grandmother kept a boarding house in Pittsburgh. Her house faced Penn. Avenue; at the back was an alley called Spring Way. After dinner the residents would sit outside the house chatting or playing the tambourine or playing ‘house music’ on their guitars. 1966”
“In the 1920s, when blacks moved from the South to the big cities, my grandmother ran a boarding house in Pittsburgh. … After dinner the residents would sit outside the house talking or playing the tambourine or playing ‘down house music’ on their guitars.” – Romare Bearden
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“The three folk musicians are both culturally significant and formally appealing,” said Leo G. Mazow, VMFA Curator of American Art. “It appeals to us for aesthetic reasons, but also because of its connection to cultural and social issues.”
MAZOW AND SARAH ECKHARDT, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at VMFA, proposed the Bearden acquisition. The curators described the location of the collage and its random availability to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“When Sarah sent me the painting from the New York gallery, I couldn’t believe my eyes. If you wanted to buy a Bearden collage, I would think of “Three Folk Strings”. … Bearden himself greatly appreciated the work. … It is very rare that you have the opportunity to buy the best or one of the best works of an artist,” Mazow told a local newspaper.
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“When Sarah sent me the painting from the New York gallery, I couldn’t believe my eyes. If you wanted to buy a Bearden collage, I would think of “Three Folk Strings”. … Bearden himself greatly appreciated the work.” — Leo G. Mazow, VMFA Curator of American Art
– We exposed our feelings. Once that came up, the conversation was over,” Taylor added. “The fact that the family didn’t sell the work earlier probably meant that the museum was waiting.”
The provenance of a work of art always contributes to its narrative arc. When Bearden’s collage was featured in MoMA’s 1974 “Ritual Proliferation” exhibit, it was prominently displayed on a wall facing visitors as they entered the exhibit, displayed next to Richard Hunt’s sculptures. In the checklist of the exhibition, which was published in September of last year, when MoMA digitized its archives and opened access to the public, Dr. and Mrs. Jerry Solin of Englewood, NJ. In later cases, the attribution of “Three Folk Strings” simply referred to “private collection” (Patton’s book) or “anonymous borrower” (National Gallery exhibition).
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Dr. Solin practiced dentistry in New York and New Jersey for 60 years. According to Legacy.com, he died in June 2016 and is survived by his family, including his wife of 59 years, artist Trudy Solin. Solin is described in the obituary as a jazz collector and an authority. A contribution to Jazz at Lincoln Center has been proposed in his memory.
It is common for survivors to sell old art when a family collector dies. Solin’s passion for jazz coincides with the themes of the Bearden collage.
“‘Three Folk Musicians’ shows how Bearden created a visual equivalent for rhythm, syncopation, improvisation and other musical sensibilities,” Taylor wrote in a museum release. “Thus it pays tribute to the jazz and blues music that inspired African-American artists – and modernists in general.” CT
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Browse the catalog for the MoMA exhibition “Romare Bearden: The Proliferation of Ritual” (1971) here. Also see “African American Art (Oxford Art History)” by Sharon F. Patton, whose cover shows a detail of the collage painting “Three Folk Musicians” by Romare Bearden. For extensive documentation of Bearden’s work, see “The Art of Romare Bearden” in conjunction with a survey organized by the National Gallery.
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