Robert Colescott in New York, NY

After living in the PNW for the past 16 years I appreciate the hot summer weather of the past. I grew up in the Midwest, and then spent much of my adult life on the East Coast. Year round, I’m freezing in Seattle (although the past week has been delightfully hot). I was thrilled with the mid 90s forecast for my recent trip to NYC. I timed my trip to the New Museum right in the heat of the day, as I also appreciate an air conditioning break.

I love the New Museum. I didn’t miss a single online lecture during the pandemic, and I try to get to all of their exhibitions. I recently wrote about the extraordinary Faith Ringgold exhibition that you can read about here.

Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott was fantastic. The exhibition highlights Colescott’s sixty year career with approximately forty paintings.

Untitled, 1949
Oil on canvas

“The bold and richly rendered works of Robert Colescott (1925–2009) traverse art history to offer a satirical take on issues of race, beauty, and American culture. Often ahead of his time, Colescott explored the ways in which personal and cultural identities are constructed and enacted through the language and history of painting. This presentation offers a long overdue celebration of Colescott as one of the most consequential artists of his time.” (New Museum)

From a Fragment by Sargent, 1962
Oil on canvas
Untitled, 1955-56
Oil on canvas
Untitled, 1949
Oil on canvas
Nubian Queen, 1966
Acrylic on canvas

“Colescott is perhaps best known for works made during the 1970s in which he reimagined iconic artworks to examine the absence of Black men and women as protagonists in dominant cultural and social narratives. Works like George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook (1975) offer irreverent parodies of familiar masterpieces, while incisively critiquing America’s often brutally discriminatory past and present. In its complex interplay of high art and vernacular traditions, his work has opened new possibilities for chronicling the history of America while ridiculing its grandiosity and biases.” (New Museum)

George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an
American History Textbook, 1975
Acrylic on canvas
The Wreckage of the Medusa, 1978
Acrylic on canvas
Three Graces: Art, Sex, and Death, 1981
Acrylic on canvas
Hard Hats, 1987
Acrylic on canvas
School Days, 1988
Acrylic on canvas
(Left) Knowledge of the Past is the Key to the Future: Upside Down Jesus and the Politics of Survival, 1987
Acrylic on canvas

(Right) Matthew Henson and the Quest for the North Pole, 1986
Acrylic on canvas
(Left) Arabs: The Emir of Iswid (How Wild the Gulf), 1992
Acrylic on canvas

(Right) Beauty is Only Skin Deep, 1991
Acrylic on canvas

“This groundbreaking exhibition highlights Colescott’s legacy as a standard bearer for figuration in the 1970s, a forerunner of the appropriation strategies of the 1980s, an overlooked contributor to debates around identity politics in the 1990s, and a pioneer in addressing some of the most challenging issues in global culture today.” (New Museum)

Interior II – Homage to Roy Lichtenstein, 1991
Acrylic on canvas
(Left) Bad Habits, 1983
Acrylic on canvas

(Middle) Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder, 1979
Acrylic on canvas

(Right) The Judgement of Paris, 1984
Acrylic on canvas

Here is a great Roberta Smith review of the show where you can learn more about the amazing Colescott.

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