Wednesday, February 12, 2014

EXHIBIT: Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist

Archibald J. Motley Jr., Self-Portrait (Myself at Work), 1933, Oil on canvas, © Valerie Gerrard Browne
Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne.  Image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum via
Retrospective of the American artist’s paintings hits the road for a national tour


Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist is the first retrospective of the American artist’s paintings in two decades. Archibald John Motley Jr. (1891–1981) is one of the most significant yet least known twentieth-century artists, despite the continued broad appeal of his paintings. Many of his most important portraits and cultural scenes remain in private collections and few museums have had the opportunity to acquire his work. In a survey that spans forty years, Archibald Motley introduces the artist's colorful canvases to a wider audience and reveals the rich sociological and art historical underpinnings of his work.

Archibald Motley includes forty-three works spanning each period of Motley’s career, from 1919 to 1960. Motley’s scenes of life in an African-American community, often in his native Chicago, depict a parallel existence of labor and leisure. His portraits are voyeuristic, but they are also examinations of race, gender, and sexuality. Motley did not shy away from folklore fantasies, directly addressing slavery and racism. The exhibition also features his noteworthy depictions of Jazz Age Paris and 1950s Mexico.

Motley was born in New Orleans, but during the first half of the twentieth century he lived and worked in a predominately white neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest side, a few miles from the city’s growing black community known as “Bronzeville.” Motley's work examines this community, carefully constructing scenes that depict Chicago’s African-American elites, but also the worlds of the recently disembarked migrants from the South and other characters commonly overlooked.

Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist is accompanied by a richly illustrated exhibition catalogue with critical texts by scholars Davarian L. Baldwin, David C. Driskell, Olivier Meslay, Amy M. Mooney and critically acclaimed poet, essayist and novelist Ishmael Reed. The catalogue is published by the Nasher Museum and distributed by Duke University Press.

The exhibition will be complemented by free programs and events in each city. A daylong scholarly symposium related to the exhibition will be held March 1,2014 at The Nasher Museum. In the Spring 2014 term, curator Richard J. Powell will teach a Duke University course focused on the exhibition.

Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist is made possible by the Terra Foundation for American Art; the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor; and the Henry Luce Foundation.
Exhibit itinerary:  

Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC
January 30 – May 11, 2014

June 14–September 7, 2014

Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art
October 19, 2014–February 1, 2015

Chicago Cultural Center
March 6 –August 31, 2015  

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Fall 2015

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