The Timeless Role of an African-American Arts + Cultural Center
Consulting Curator Michael D. Harris, PhD. describes the unique experience the Gantt Center offers to visitors of all backgrounds
Excerpts from the Curator's Statement, "Visualizing the Black Interior", by Michael D. Harris, PhD.
Art is where and how we speak to each other in tongues audible when "official" language fails. It is not where we escape the world's ills, but rather one place where we go to make sense of them.
- Elizabeth Alexander, The Black Interior
The 2009 opening of the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture is a milestone for African American art. The three museum-quality galleries at the center of this new facility will establish Charlotte as a nationally significant place for the presentation of African American visual and expressive culture. The Center has the unique opportunity to become a strong voice in the dialogue about the role and place of African American art within the larger American and contemporary art canons and traditions.
Interview With A Master Curator: Michael D. Harris
As museums and galleries across the United States and, increasingly, around the world, have begun aggressively collecting and displaying the work of African American artists, many curators, collectors and scholars have discussed whether African American art should be integrated into the permanent collections of museums without racial or cultural designation, or if galleries and categories devoted to the art of African American artists should be maintained. How do we define the category? Is it art done by African Americans? Is it art devoted to relevant historical or cultural content? Has racial justice been achieved in American society to the extent that cultural distinctions defining ethnic subgroups have begun to dissolve?
Just as Duke Ellington's jazz compositions stand shoulder to shoulder with other great composers of the 20th century such as Igor Stravinsky and George Gershwin, Ellington's oeuvre is more fully understandable when placed in the context of his ethnic cultural experience in Washington, D.C., and New York City during the 1920s and 1930s. This is also the case for Romare Bearden's articulate collages that probe Mecklenburg County life, Southern black folklore, urban clubs and dance halls with jazz bands, Harlem landscapes, patchwork quilt aesthetics, and African mask abstractions, along with the stylistic and thematic traditions of European Modernism.
This is a stream of African American art that is less concerned about racial antagonism or white audiences and that, like the blues, tells a black story with all of the folk idioms, nuances, pathos, signifyin,' sing-song preaching, Vaselined legs, hot combed hair, scat singing, stylish dancing, profiling, and front-porch-sitting familiarity found in performed black ethnicity.
The Harvey B. Gantt Center provides a space for the diverse expression of artists steeped in this hothouse experience of black culture. Our inaugural artists, Juan Logan and Radcliffe Bailey, provide two approaches rooted in that experience. Both are Southern artists with national reputations. In his exhibition entitled Leisure Spaces, Logan addresses the old terrains around water and segregation with a signifying accusatory gaze. With Between Two Worlds, Bailey maps the African diaspora experience and the cultural transformation from African to African American; a fragmentation held together by family ties and genealogies. The Hewitt Collection, acquired through the largesse of the Bank of America art
program, will anchor the Center's permanent collection and symbolize the growing partnerships between the Gantt Center and Charlotte-area institutions and collectors
The three inaugural exhibitions at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture serve to announce the arrival of this Charlotte institution onto the national stage and the addition of a new voice in the dialogue about the role and definition of African American art. These galleries will provide a place for viewers to come see some of the best, most interesting artwork by African American artists or about African American life. Hopefully they will become a metaphorical space for encounters with culture and, in the call-and-response tradition, a place where creators of culture can get an "Amen."
Credits: Courtesy Michael D. Harris