Charlotte Celebrates Bearden, a citywide commemoration marking the centennial of internationally renowned Charlotte collage artist Romare Bearden (1911–1988) features collaborations among arts and cultural organizations throughout the city around music, dance, literary and visual arts events, all of them touching on aspects of Bearden’s life and times. A groundbreaking visual artist, Bearden’s work reflects African American cultural experiences including blues and jazz musicians, cabins and rural landscapes as well as city street scenes.
“Without a doubt he’s one of the most significant artists, both nationally and internationally, to come from North Carolina,” says Carla Hanzal, curator of contemporary art at the Mint Museum. “He was born in Charlotte and spent his early years here, but as this exhibition will point out, the South — and Mecklenberg County in particular — served as a source of inspiration for him throughout his career. This is a theme that has never been previously explored in an exhibition.”
Bearden’s first retrospective in 1970 was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and was followed 10 years later by a major traveling exhibition organized by the Mint Museum. Hanzal says the museum has added a number of Bearden works in the past 30 years, including Back Porch Serenade, which joins the Mint collection for the first time as part of the celebration.
Because Bearden and his family were part of the movement made by millions of African Americans from the south to the north starting in the 1940s, the theme of migration also plays into the exhibition, Hanzal says. “As you leave, your recollections of your first home sometimes grow even stronger. You realize the significance of the southern way of life that perhaps is passing away: connections among family and friends, the rituals of sharing a communal meal, baptisms, jazz bands, the connections among people within their home. I hope people, especially people who have recently relocated to North Carolina, will think about their own connections to the past, their histories and the journeys they’ve taken to arrive here.”
Highlights at the Mint include Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections (Friday, Sept. 2, through Sunday, Jan. 8) featuring nearly 100 collages, paintings, watercolors and prints assembled from the Mint Museum as well as from private and public collections. Romare Bearden Works on Paper (through Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012) features rarely seen watercolors and prints by Romare Bearden on loan from Charlotte-area collections. Sample Bearden’s works and get more information at http://www.mintmuseum.org.
The Bearden celebration continues at other venues throughout Charlotte. The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture’s Romare Bearden Centennial Celebration: His Life, His Love, His Legacy (through Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012), features three distinctive exhibitions. Romare Bearden: The Life features photographs by Frank Stewart documenting not only Bearden’s associations with prominent artists and the political and cultural figures of his day, but also his work in the studio and his family life. Paper Trail: Romare Bearden Works on Paper includes rarely seen Bearden watercolors and prints on loan from Charlotte-area collections. And Beyond Bearden: Creative Responses features painters, sculptors, printmakers and mixed-media artists inspired by Bearden. “He was an important artist in terms of what he was able to accomplish and what he established during his lifetime,” says Ce Scott, creative director, Harvey B. Gantt Center. “In terms of art forms, we are used to seeing collages and mixed media now, but if you look at the dates when Bearden created some of these pieces, you’re looking at work in a style that had never been done before. Every collage artist, every artist following Bearden, really has him to thank for being their inspiration and being the trailblazer in this form of collage, which also reflected aspects of the African American experience, particularly as it related to the South.”
Bearden’s life and times are also reflected in music. The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s Bearden 100 — Celebrating the Man through Music (Friday, Oct. 21) is the first in its 2011–2012 KnightSounds concert series at the Knight Theatre. Jacomo Rafael Bairos will conduct Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man; Mason Bates’ Rusty Air in Carolina, a contemporary aural collage of electronica and different instruments; and arrangements of several selections by Duke Ellington, one of Bearden’s friends during the Harlem Renaissance. Images of Bearden’s works reflecting Mecklenburg County, New York City and rural life will accompany the musical arrangements.
Carolina Shout: The UNC Charlotte Jazz Ensemble Celebrates Bearden (Thursday, Dec. 1) is a multimedia concert featuring music inspired by Bearden’s work. Dr. Will Campbell, director of jazz studies at UNC Charlotte, says he was introduced to the artist through a 2003 Branford Marsalis Quartet album entitled Romare Bearden Revealed and hopes to compose some original music for the concert. “It’s great that we can herald someone who was born here and drew a lot of inspiration for his art from Charlotte,” he says. “Most students don’t know who Romare Bearden was, and it’s important that they know there’s such a rich heritage in this area.”
For a complete calendar of Charlotte Celebrates Bearden events, visit http://www.charlottecultureguide.com/feature.php?id=32, or learn more at http://mintwiki.pbworks.com/.