Reflections: African American Life from the Myrna Colley-Lee Collection
July 27–September 24, 2017
Reflections tells a highly personal story of community and place through a selection of the extensive collection of costume designer and arts patron, Myrna Colley-Lee. Featuring 50 works including paintings, works on paper, collages, and fabric works, Reflections presents the lives, traditions, and environments of African Americans in the 20th century. The exhibition focuses largely on the figurative and representational, presenting pieces by such noted artists as Romare Bearden, James Van Der Zee, Elizabeth Catlett, Eudora Welty, and Bette Saar. Together, these complementary works present a snapshot of life from within the African American community as well as by artists working in close proximity to it.
The imagery depicted in the works selected for Reflections focuses primarily—although not exclusively—on two areas: narrative, or genre subjects from everyday life; and the landscape of the American South. The juxtaposition of these two, distinct yet related, allows viewers to connect the strong tradition of storytelling by African Americans (narrative and genre subjects), with the sense of place that is largely unique to Southerners (the landscape). Colley-Lee is herself a transplant to rural Mississippi, and her collection reflects in part her personal appreciation of the two traditions and the way in which she sees them intertwine.
The use of collage by African American artists is well represented in Reflections, ranging from the work of modern master Romare Bearden, continuing through the art of legendary Bette Saar, and up through the younger postmodernist Radcliffe Bailey. Beginning with classic studio portraits by celebrated photographer James Van Der Zee and concluding with contemporary prints by Tom Rankin and Maude Schuyler-Clay, the photographs included in the exhibition chronicle the past century in a straightforward, sometimes documentary, approach. Paintings and works on paper round out this selection, and include examples by the iconic Elizabeth Catlett as well as lesser known and emerging artists including Roland Freeman and Charles White. Finally, textile works including quilts, invigorate the exhibition with color and texture, and merge self-taught and folk artists with trained practitioners such as Carol Ann Carter, Gerldine Nash and Hystercine Rankin.
This collection represents a dialogue between the artist and identity. Only by reflecting upon the lives, traditions, and environments of African Americans in the 20th century, can this identity be found.
Reflections is organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC, in collaboration with Myrna Colley-Lee.