On February 10th The Friends of the Library kicked off its 2020 Art Docent series with a presentation of the de Young museum’s exhibit, “Soul of a Nation – Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983.” Docent Marcia Holm, who has appeared many times for the Friends, gave her usual well-prepared, authoritative and entertaining presentation.
Holm started with a history of the exhibit itself, pointing out that it originated at the Tate Museum in London, and has since travelled to six museums in the United States. Some of the original pieces in the show have had to be replaced over its extended run, as their donors wanted them returned. Many of the new replacement pieces are works by Bay Area artists.
The works in the exhibition include both abstract and representational depictions of the black experience in America, starting with the flowering of the Civil Rights Movement. The Spiral Art Collective was founded in 1963 in New York City by several black artists and produced a group exhibition in 1965. Other groups sprang up across the country as black artists responded to the rise of the Black Power Movement, the Selma marches, the Watts riots and other events of the tumultuous period.
The images Holm chose for her presentation included the powerful “America the Beautiful” by Norman Lewis, which is an abstract depiction of a KKK gathering. Other prominent artists she covered included David Hammons, Timothy Washington, Charles White and numerous others from the extensive exhibition.
Betye Saar’s “Liberation of Aunt Jemima” included found objects from the 1960’s Alameda Flea Market. Another local connection in the exhibit is Cleveland Bellow’s image of a young black man with raised hands that appeared on ten billboards around Oakland and Berkeley in 1970. The portrait could be viewed as a person expressing either joy or fear of harm. Either way it seems powerful and even modern.
The exhibit will continue at the de Young through March 15th. Marcia Holm encouraged everyone to visit the museum, as there is much more to see than she had time for in her program, and many pieces are best viewed in person.
This program was sponsored in part by a grant from the Rotary Club of Alameda. The next docent lecture will be on Frida Kahlo March 16th at 6:30 pm at the main library.