Romare Bearden's vibrant mural-size tableau The Block (1971) and related sketches and photographs will be featured at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning January 15, 2010, in a small installation of works from the collection. The Block, an ambitious 18-foot-long collage, celebrates the Harlem neighborhood in New York City that nurtured and inspired so much of the artist's life and work. Romare Bearden (1911–1988) is best known for the colorful cut-paper collages that he began making in the 1960s. Elaborate works such as The Block (1971) elevated this genre to a major art form through its unusual materials, expressionist color, abstracted forms, flattened shapes and spaces, and shifts in perspective and scale—all the while maintaining focus on the human narrative being told within a single city block.
Bearden described The Block in 1971: "…I was intrigued by the series of houses I could see from [the] windows. Their colors, their forms, and the lives they contained within their walls fascinated me. When I sketched this block, I was looking at a particular street [Lenox Avenue between 132nd and 133rd streets], but as I translated it into visual form it became something else. I lost the literalness and moved into where my imagination took me." Bearden's collage technique—a mixture of bold colors, large and small shapes, and diverse patterns—captures the energy of city life.
On view to the public for the first time are 11 of Bearden's preliminary sketches for The Block, which reveal his close attention to architectural detail and human gesture. Also on display are two photographs of Lenox Avenue, taken in about 1971 by Bearden's friend, the writer Albert Murray. The drawings and photographs were part of the 2005 bequest of William S. Lieberman (1923–2005), former chairman of the Metropolitan's Department of Modern Art.
Romare Bearden's The Block is organized by Lisa Messinger, Associate Curator in the Museum's Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art.
In conjunction with this installation, audio commentary on Romare Bearden's work will be available as a stop on the Metropolitan's Audio Guide program. The Block will also be featured on the Museum's website at www.metmuseum.org.
The opening of The Block is timed in anticipation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, January 18, when the Museum will be open for a Met Holiday Monday.
Romare Bearden's The Block also coincides with the celebration of Black History Month, in February. The Museum will offer gallery talks about this work on the following days: February 3 at 2 p.m., February 11 at 10 a.m., February 18 at 3:30 p.m., and February 26 at 6 p.m. Please see below for a full listing of programs for Black History Month.
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About Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the world's largest and finest art museums. Its collections include more than two million works of art spanning 5,000 years of world culture, from prehistory to the present and from every part of the globe. Founded in 1870, the Metropolitan Museum is located in New York City's Central Park along Fifth Avenue (from 80th to 84th Streets). Last year it was visited by 5.2 million people.