Make us your home page

African-American art show from BoA opens at Museum of Fine Arts


The Bank of America art collection has been ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the best corporate examples in the world. We have gotten to know it in our region through its Art in Our Communities program, through which the bank has lent exhibitions to area museums at no cost. Most recently, the Tampa Museum of Art had a show of post-revolution Mexican artists, for example.

The latest exhibition to arrive from BoA is "Mixing Metaphors: The Aesthetic, the Social and the Political in African-American Art." This one is a bit different from many that are organized and rotated through museums by the bank, in that scholar, photographer and independent curator Deborah Willis put it together.

She divided the 90 paintings, prints, drawings, photographs and mixed media works by 36 artists into three categories: Reflections and Likeness, Constructing Place and Rituals of Existence. The show is terrific, though I think the categories are sometimes arbitrary and I don't understand suggesting that they are visual metaphors. These works are mostly straightforward in their intent. The subtitle is more illustrative, describing the works as representative of aesthetic, social and political African-American art.

The preponderant medium is photography. (She is a photographer after all.) There are examples from Ernest C. Withers' I Am a Man portfolio that documented the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. They are moving testaments to the courage black men, women and young people possessed to protest and exercise their rights in the segregated South.

Other photographers chose to portray a middle class and affluent members of the black community. Henry Clay Anderson, who had a studio in Greenville, Miss., recorded proms and weddings. Earlier, in the 1930s, James VanDerZee had immortalized Harlem and its glamorous lifestyle, epitomized by two beautiful people in raccoon coats against a backdrop of a fabulous convertible and a row of brownstones. Noted contemporary photographer and MacArthur Foundation "genius" award winner Carrie Mae Weems isn't, as the former three are, a documentarian. Her work is full of social commentary, especially about black women and their misrepresentation in popular culture and the media.

The same could be said of Earlie Hudnall Jr.'s 1993 gelatin silver print of an adolescent male dressed in the hip-hop uniform of low-riding jeans, backward baseball cap, exposed underwear and gold accessories. But it also has much in common stylistically with Lawrence Finney's and James Biggers' works in nearby galleries. There are allusions in the three to much earlier art. Just as Hudnall poses his subject in a way similar to ancient Greek statuary, so does Biggers invoke ancient classicism in Four Seasons. In the lithograph, four monumentally proportioned black women stand in doorways like columns on an Attic temple. The shotgun houses are arranged with the same symmetry, capped by roofs that are evocative of a temple. Finney, too, proportions his figures monumentally in Caretaker. In the oil painting, a man holds a boy on his lap, shielding him with a protective hand. The treatment of their bodies suggests Renaissance paintings, and the dramatic lighting is Baroque.

Romare Bearden and Benny Andrews share affinities as well, though they aren't in the same galleries either. In The Rehearsal (1997), Andrews paints and collages a family gathering in which an older woman (probably the grandmother), dressed for church, sings from a hymnal with one young man while another plays on an upright piano. The painting is simple but nuanced, its vivid colors and the dignified joy of its subjects a counterpoint to its spare composition. Bearden, too, represented by two prints, is a master of the domestic scene as social commentary.

Willis, the curator, has assembled a melange of famous and not-so-famous names and lots of individuality to make her point that art by African-Americans has contributed a lot to the modern and contemporary art world and to our understanding and appreciation in a historical context.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at or (727) 893-8293.


Mixing Metaphors: The Aesthetic, the Social and the Political in African-American Art, Works from the Bank of America Collection

Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, 255 Beach Drive NE, through Jan. 5. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, extended hours to 8 p.m. Thursday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $17 adults, $15 seniors, $10 students 7 and older including college students with ID. After 5 p.m. Thursday, admission is $5. or (727) 896-2667.

African-American art show from BoA opens at Museum of Fine Arts 11/15/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 15, 2013 6:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Glen Campbell's wife Kim discusses challenges, guilt caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, others face

    Life Times

    If there's one thing Kim Campbell would change about caregiving for Alzheimer's patients, it's the attitude so many of us have toward transferring a loved one from home to a long-term care facility. According to Campbell, it's often the most kind, loving decision you can make. It's not a sign of failure, but one of …

    Kim Campbell, wife of country music legend Glen Campbell, is acknowledged by those attending the free event where she shared the story of her personal journey with Alzheimer???‚??„?s disease and the struggles she faced caring for her husband on Friday (5/26/17) at the Suncoast Hospice's Empath Health Service Center in Clearwater. Empath Choices for Care, a member of Empath Health, and Arden Courts Memory Care hosted the free event where Kim shared her story to help others understand the early stages, how the disease changes lives, the challenges families face and the role of caregiver.
  2. What happened when I took my dad to a Pitbull concert

    Music & Concerts

    TAMPA — "So, you know how you like Pitbull?" I asked my dad. "We can see him."

    Selfie of Divya Kumar and Anand Kumar at Pitbull/Enrique Iglesias concert.
  3. Tampa City Council votes to accept travel invitation from Cuban ambassador


    The invitation came to Tampa City Council chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin in a June 9 letter from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.

    The Tampa City Council voted 6-0, with Frank Reddick out of the room, to respond to a travel invitation from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 25


    St. Pete Pride Festival: The daytime festival covers Central Avenue's Grand Central District with more than 350 vendors, multiple stages, live music, art and food. 9 a.m., Grand Central District, 2429 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Free. (727) 342-0084.

    Kristen Whalen poses for a photo before the start of the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg last year. It's that time of year again, so check with us for your planning purposes. [LUIS SANTANA  |   Times (2016)]
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24


    St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride's popular parade moves to downtown St. Petersburg's scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at 7 p.m. with fireworks at 9:45 p.m. 2 p.m., North Straub Park, Fifth …

    Thousands line the streets of Central Ave. during the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg.  [Saturday, June 25, 2016] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]