Artist Michael Ray Charles Unveils Research Collection on Cultural Issues in Momentous Exhibition at the UMLAUF

  • AUSTIN, Texas
  • /
  • August 21, 2019

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Michael Ray Charles

The UMLAUF Sculpture Garden + Museum in Austin will present a new exhibition by internationally-renowned artist Michael Ray Charles, from September 5. A prominent contemporary American artist, his show will mark one of the most significant presentations at the UMLAUF. Charles is known for art that investigates the legacy of historic racial stereotypes of African Americans. Since the 1990s, he has created complex, layered paintings that challenge stereotypes, power dynamics, and social and cultural hierarchies.

A top tier artist who addresses consequential cultural issues, Charles spent twenty years at the University of Texas at Austin as a Professor of Art. The Museum’s namesake, Charles Umlauf, taught at the university for 40 years, but retired a decade before Charles was hired. Though the two never met, as a true representation of what the museum stands for, it has long been the UMLAUF’s desire to show Charles’ work.

“Not only does Michael Ray make powerful, important art, but he has been collecting historical pop culture sculptural objects for years that inflect his art,” the UMLAUF’s curator, Katie Robinson Edwards, said. “Visitors will have a chance to see his current work in the context of the objects and themes that have inspired him.”

The exhibition, Michael Ray Charles, consists of three groups of images that inflect one other: a series of new drawings Charles will create specifically for the UMLAUF show, his complete 2018 Flatbed Press print portfolio (featuring a poem written in response to the prints by poet and professor Meta DuEwa Jones) and historical objects lent from Charles’ personal research collection.

Michael Ray Charles

Additionally, Dr. Cherise Smith, the Chair and Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, has agreed to write an essay for the exhibition and present a talk during the show. Smith also serves as the Executive Director of the Galleries at Black Studies at the university where she specializes in American art after 1945, especially as it intersects with the politics of identity, race and gender.

“We want our exhibitions to be ever-more relevant to the wide variety of people who make up Austin and the many tourists who come to visit,” the UMLAUF’s Executive Director, Sarah Story, said. “The Michael Ray Charles exhibition boasts the perfect combination of old and new, and ties into the Austin community seamlessly.”

Michael Ray Charles was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, and graduated from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1985. He studied advertising design and illustration and eventually painting, his preferred medium. He earned an MFA degree from the University of Houston in 1993. Since the 1990s, Charles has addressed the ongoing struggle for equality and social justice. He appropriates images from a long history of American advertising, memorabilia, commercial packaging, radio and television. He engages stereotypes of black people to reveal age-old biases that take new forms in our contemporary world.

Charles was a featured artist in the first season of the award-winning PBS series Art 21: Art in the 21st Century, along with Matthew Barney, Mel Chin and Andrea Zittel.  His work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. and Europe, including exhibitions at Cotthem Gallery, Brussels, Belgium; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD; Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, NY; Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati, OH; Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY; and Galerie Hans Mayer, Dusseldorf, Germany. In 2018, he was awarded the Rome Prize, one of the most prestigious awards given to a practicing artist. Charles is the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of Painting at the University of Houston and a senior member of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences faculty.

About the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden + Museum

The UMLAUF Sculpture Garden + Museum is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded around a vast collection of work by American sculptor Charles Umlauf. The UMLAUF exhibits the work of Charles Umlauf, artists who influenced him, and other contemporary sculptors in a natural setting, and provides educational experiences that encourage the understanding and appreciation of sculpture. For more information, visit

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