Crystal Bridges Announces 2 New Works By African-American Artists

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Wednesday, Jun. 16, 2010 10:36 am  

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville has announced two new acquisitions: a 19th century landscape and a contemporary tapestry, both by African-American artists.

The landscape is "Flatboat Men," an 1865 painting by Robert Scott Duncanson, "thought to be the first black artist in the United States to make a living as a painter and become internationally known," according to the museum.

The tapestry, "A Warm Summer Evening in 1863," a 2008 work by Kara Walker, is described by the museum as a piece "that confronts viewers with Civil War-era racial violence."

The museum, now under construction near the Bentonville town square, is supported by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton and the Walton Family Foundation. Among its previously announced acquisitions are traditional masterworks by Gilbert Stuart ("George Washington") and Asher B. Durand ("Kindred Spirits") and contemporary pieces by Walton Ford ("The Island") and Mary McCleary ("The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer").

"This painting documents the timber industry but also romanticizes the landscape in a manner typical of the Hudson River School," Manuela Well-Off-Man, assistant curator, said of "Flatboat Men." "The tiny scale of the figures emphasizes the insignificance of the human within the grand scale of nature," Well-Off-Man said in a museum press release.

Duncanson, born in Seneca County, N.Y., sometime between 1817 and 1821, was largely self-taught as an artist. Raised in Canada, he moved to his mother's home near Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1841 and traveled throughout the United States and Canada working as an itinerant artist. He died in 1872.

Duncanson's work can be seen at the Taft Museum in Cincinnati, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Ga., and the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., among others.

Walker "is best known for creating theatrical room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes — often stereotypical figures from the Deep South engaged in acts of extreme violence and cruelty," the museum said.

"A Warm Summer Evening in 1863" is Walker's first tapestry and "is based on an engraving originally published in Harper's Magazine during the Civil War that documented the destruction of an orphanage for black children in New York City," the museum said.

"By choosing this event, Walker focuses attention on labor tensions between immigrants and freed slaves in the North. The black felt silhouette of a lynched female figure that is superimposed on the scene, her noose tied in a neat bow, is not based on a real person, but effectively telegraphs the horror of the racially motivated violence."

"It's just this type of collision between documented history and imagined history that makes Kara Walker's work so strong," Don Bacigalupi, director of Crystal Bridges, said. "This work speaks to the complexity of race relations in the Civil War era."

Walker, born in Stockton, Calif., in 1969, moved to Stone Mountain, Ga., at 13. At 27 she became one of the youngest recipients of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation ("Genius") Fellowship, and in 2002 she was chosen to represent the United States in the São Paulo Biennial in Brazil. Walker, who now lives in New York, is a professor of visual arts at Columbia University. Her work is included in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, both in New York City, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among other museums.




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