There are two African American artists that I thought I would never have the opportunity or the funds to purchase, Romare Bearden and Henry Ossawa Tanner. I still haven’t been fortunate to acquire a Tanner, but Bearden became part of the American collection in 2006. Much of Bearden’s work falls outside the American collection, because it was done after 1945 and, therefore, considered contemporary art. The organization of museum collections can seem so arbitrary to an outsider, even inside it can be confusing. The cut off of 1945 was made because that is the period when American art no longer emulated European style and ventured out on its own to develop Abstract Expressionism. I discussed this in the Delaney blog. Because of this demarcation I never thought a Bearden would become available that would fit into the American before 1945 collection.
The discovery of this painting occurred during my 2006 trip to New York for my yearly symposium on American art. I always visit the galleries to see what is available. On the wall in an American art gallery was an early Tanner that caught my eye, but it was not representative of the artist’s style and would not have been a good representation of his work. So I continued to look at the display on the rest of the wall when I was struck by the color and design of the work next to it. I wasn’t used to seeing early works by Romare Bearden, so I was surprised to learn he was the artist. The piece was stunning. I kept coming back to it during my walk through the gallery. When I returned to the IMA I couldn’t take my mind off the painting. The price was more than I had ever asked the museum to pay for an acquisition, but I thought it was so important to the collection that I had to try to acquire it for the museum. Read the rest of this entry »
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