Exhibition focuses on works of black artists

The artists represented in the Something to Look Forward To exhibition opening Saturday at the Morris Museum of Art have much in common.


Each is an abstract artist.

Each began their careers during the second generation of abstract art in the late 1950s and early '60s.

Each is black.

First mounted in 2004 at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., the show proved problematic.

"It was something that required a tremendous amount of consideration," said Bill Hutson, the original curator for the exhibit. "We put in a proposal to the National Endowment for the Arts and it was turned down. I wasn't surprised. These were old black artists and they were doing art that was no longer popular."

Mr. Hutson said it was for that reason, because the 22 participating artists had been marginalized by race and age and style, that he felt it was important that their work was seen, understood and appreciated.

"The thing is, I'm not a curator," he said with a laugh. "I have no background. No experience. I'm an artist and I knew some artists and had put together some shows. It's the same here. These are people I knew. Some I have known for almost 50 years. Many of the artists didn't know each other. It's the issue of abstraction that became the binding agent. There is no group, no manifesto."

The pieces include Melvin Edward's muscular metal sculptures, Betty Blayton's organic shapes and textures, and Sam Gilliam's multimedium explorations of color, plane and line.

Mr. Gilliam said he was excited by the idea of the show but disappointed by the initial direction. He said he believed the purpose of an exhibition isn't to illuminate sociological theory, but expose art.

"The show dragged a lot," he said. "It was too concerned with post-modernism. There was a lot of comparing abstract art to quilts, you know? That's not what I wanted. What I wanted was for people to see my best pictures."

Mr. Gilliam said what he found rewarding was the opportunity to show and be shown with artists of similar interest and influence. Something to Look Forward To was similar to shows he has participated in since 1969, he said.

"The shows are always fine, but it really is about the party afterward," he said.

Mr. Hutson and Mr. Gilliam acknowledged that part of the challenge involves addressing the idea of abstraction. Mr. Gilliam compared the current art audience's unwillingness to embrace abstract as akin to Rembrandt's going unrecognized for 200 years after his death. Mr. Hutson said he believes people originally felt, and continue to feel, that as a style it is too focused to evolve.

"People wondered where it could go after the first or second generation," he said. "But of course, it has lots of places to go. People didn't stop after the first portrait, or the first landscape."

The exhibition takes its name from the collective age of the participants. Mr. Hutson said he sees the exhbiti as showing that there is life left to be lived as the years begin to stack up. An active artist himself, Mr. Hutson looks forward to the day that shows such as Something to Look Forward To are a historical curiosity rather than an art world reality, when shows become less about gender or age or race and more about art.

"We should erase as much of that as we can," he said. "It should just be about art. We need to be stood next to our colleagues."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


WHAT: Something to Look Forward To: Abstract Art by 22 Distinguished Artists of African Descent
WHERE: The Morris Museum of Art, 1 10th St.
WHEN: Saturday through May 25; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
COST: $5 general, $3 students, seniors and military; younger than 6 admitted free with adult; all admission free on Sundays; www.themorris.org, (706) 724-7501