Tableau at Met Museum portrays life of Harlem block

Tue Jan 26, 2010 11:14am EST
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By Ellen Freilich

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - A tableau by artist Romare Bearden on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrates the life of a city block in Harlem where he spent part of his youth.

Along with the 18-foot-long (5.4 meter) collage called "The Block," the exhibit that runs until Spring 2010 also includes pencil and marker sketches Bearden used to prepare it and photographs.

"The work portrays the energy of the city," said Lisa Messinger, an associate curator of modern art at the museum.

"It recognizes the hardships that people may have to endure but also a sense of community. There's survival and joy at the same time."

Bearden, whose mother was a journalist and whose father was a civil servant, died in 1988. He was a very well educated man who had a great knowledge of modern art and art history, Messinger said.

"His work speaks to someone who is knowledgeable about art history, but also to someone who is just inspired by his cinematic, colorful view of city life, its private moments and its public moments," she said.

In his long, successful career as an artist, Bearden is best known for the colorful, cut-paper collages he began making in the 1960s. Elaborate works such as The Block (1971) helped elevate the genre to a major art form.

In these collages, Bearden displays a modernist sensibility through unusual materials, expressionistic color, abstract forms, flattened shapes and spaces, and shifts in perspective and scale, while maintaining focus on the human narrative being told, according to Messinger.   Continued...