“New Jemima” toting a machine by Joe Overstreet emerged among some radical art pairings at Brooklyn Museum’s “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties.” Opened on Thursday, March 6 prior to NYC’s largest art weekend, this amazing show runs through April 7, 2014. The first thing that draws you in is the music soundtrack of Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin. The entire display features 103 works by 66 artists, including paintings, sculpture, graphics, and photography.
I attended the opening preview on the morning of the opening night led by the show’s organizers Theresa A. Carbone, Brooklyn Museum’s Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art and Kellie Jones (Leroy Jones aka Amiri Baraka’s daughter), Columbia University, Art History & Archeology Department, Associate Professor. The two art experts shared comments and insights as we walked through the first floor gallery. For instance Carbone discussed Faith Ringgold's "Flag for the Moon: Die N****r" and explained that the N word was embedded into the flag painting! At first, I missed it. We had to look very carefully to find it! Carbonne said that a corporate buyer rescinded its purchase of the piece after realizing the word was there.
“What stands out in this show besides activism and art is the pairing of artists not normally put together within organized themes,” Prof. Jones said.
Themed sections included: Integrate/Educate; American Nightmare; Presenting Evidence; Politicizing Pop; Black is Beautiful; Sisterhood; Global Liberation; and Beloved Community. Examples of unusual pairings were portrayed by a Norman Rockwell piece “Negroes Move in the Suburbs-New Kids on the Block” with Faith Ringgold’s “Study Now” in the “Integrate Educate” section, and Sam Gilliam’s “Red April” with Jack Levine’s attack dogs in “Birmingham ’63” in the “American Nightmare” section.
My favorite pieces were “New Jemima” in the Politicizing Pop section and everything in the “Sisterhood” section especially, Jae Jarrell’s “Urban Wall Suit,” a sewn and painted cotton and silk two-piece suit; and “Voter Registration, Fayette County, TN, 1960,” a photograph by Ernest Withers.
Treat yourself to some of the best American art on display in NYC this weekend. Yes, you have the big Armory show and the Whitney's Biennial. But why bother? This show is truly radical! You will come away wondering whether politics is larger than art or visa versa. Head straight to the Brooklyn Museum! This show is a remarkable tribute to the Civil Rights Movement, and a must-see exhibit.