As one of many efforts by mid-twentieth-century African American painters to reinvent abstraction into a more pluralistic cultural practice, Hale Woodruff’s six-panel mural for Atlanta University, The Art of the Negro (1950-51), offers a visual history of global art that freely mingles western and non-western art, ancient and modern cultures, and abstract and figural forms.
“The series unsettles conventional and linear histories of modernism not only by demonstrating its stylistic and demographic diversity, but also by revealing the complexity of the encounters between its practitioners and the non-western arts from which they drew inspiration,” wrote John Ott, professor of art history, James Madison University. “Woodruff’s radical revision of global art history to which his black colleagues also subscribed and contributed in print and in paint, was but one facet of this cohort’s larger project to carve out spaces for themselves in a white and increasingly homogenous gallery scene.”
Ott will deliver the Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Lecture in Art History on Thursday, November 10, at 4:10 p.m. in Cohen Hall 203 followed by a reception in the atrium. His lecture is entitled “Hale Woodruff’s Antiprimitivist History of Global Art.”
Ott’s areas of expertise are art history of the United States before 1945, with emphasis on art patronage, museums, and markets, and on social class and its intersections with ethnicity and gender; also Precolumbian art, with emphasis on Aztec Mesoamerica.
Through the example of Central Pacific Railroad executives in his recent book, Manufacturing the Modern Patron in Victorian California: Cultural Philanthropy, Industrial Capital, and Social Authority (Ashgate Press, 2014), Ott redirects attention from the usual art historical protagonists—artistic producers—and rewrites narratives of American art from the unfamiliar vantage of patrons and collectors.
Sponsored by the Department of History of Art, the Goldberg Lecture is free and open to the public. Parking is available in Lot 95 outside Cohen Hall, off 21st Avenue South on the Peabody campus and across from Medical Center East. For more information, call the department at 615.322.2831.
*At Atlanta University, Hale Woodruff founded what was known as the Exhibition for African American artists. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection). “By bringing subjects of importance relating to the African-American experience to the American art canon, he was very much bent on helping to tell the history of African-Americans by painting murals,” wrote David Driskell, professor emeritus of art, University of Maryland.