The age old tale of Homer’s Odyssey got a jolt of color with Romare Bearden’s “Black Odyssey,” a collage series dating back to 1977. And now the Bearden series will be available to New Yorkers for the first time since the works were created by Bearden in Harlem some 37 years ago, as the exhibit “Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey” comes to the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, just blocks from the Harlem neighborhood where Bearden worked.
Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the Romare Bearden Foundation and Estate and DC Moore Gallery, the exhibition is supported by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. It will run from November 15, 2014 until March 14, 2015 at Columbia’s Wallach Art Gallery.
The Wallach Gallery showing will be the last stop of the Smithsonian traveling exhibition.
Born in Charlotte, N.C., in 1911, Bearden moved with his family to Harlem as a young child. He was relatively new to the art scene when he began working on “Black Odyssey.” He had just begun working with collages in the 1950s and didn’t fully commit to the art form until the 60s.
Bearden was committed to the idea of art influencing the human experience. He was a professional artist who at one time worked as a social worker, so his attachment to real people was a major part of his legacy.
“I give every effort to give my works a universal character,” the artist said in 1970, “and I feel that the meanings can be extended and reinforced by means of myth and ritual.”
“Bearden not only staked a claim to the tales of ancient Greece as having modern relevance, he also made the claim of global cultural collage—that as humans, we are all collages of our unique experiences,” exhibition curator Robert O’Meally explained.
Bearden, who died in 1988, over the years has become one of the most treasured African-Americans artists in the nation’s history, described by the New York Times as “the nation’s foremost collagist.” A mural by Romare Bearden in Pittsburgh at the Gateway Center subway station was appraised at $15 million, and he has many other original works with pricetags close to or over a million dollars.