Art and Identity: Highlights from the Collections of the Hudson River Museum and Art Bridges

October 12, 2018–August 4, 2019

The Hudson River Museum is honored to begin a partnership with Art Bridges, a foundation founded by arts patron Alice Walton to facilitate the sharing of outstanding works of American art and support partner institutions in expanding and deepening their connection with audiences.

Through summer 2019, four paintings on loan from Art Bridges will be featured in our galleries: David Clyde Driskell, Woman with Flowers, 1972; Kerry James Marshall, Lost Boys: AKA BB, 1993, and two works by Barkley L. Hendricks, Brenda P, 1974, and, added to the display in April 2019, North Philly Niggah (William Corbett), 1975. These artists have played significant roles in American art from the late twentieth century to today with paintings that are visually compelling and at the same time offer meaningful commentary on African American experiences. Their paintings make powerful statements and invite discussion about identity.

Two adjacent sculptures from the Museum’s collection, Eve Disconsolate by Hiram Powers and Consolation by Isidore Konti, encourage comparisons across centuries. All of these artists made choices about style, identity, and relationships regarding their subjects, the figures’ surroundings, and the intended impact of their art. Barkley L. Hendricks’ monumental portrait from 1974 of Brenda P, the lead singer of a popular Philadelphia R&B group, hangs next to the Museum’s Eve Disconsolate, 1871, a marble statue by Hiram Powers. Both works draw on established Classical precedents to a different end, representing femininity in biblical and contemporary contexts.

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Hendricks was from Philadelphia himself and, in the portrait of William Corbett, portrays an old neighborhood friend from his youth. The artist depicts him with an assured posture and a steady yet unassuming gaze. Corbett’s pose and attire project prominent elements of 1970s black culture: the importance of style, a sense of self-awareness, and the requirement to be cool. As for the language used in several of Hendricks’ titles, including the title of this painting, scholar Floyd R. Thomas, Jr., Curator Emeritus of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, has stressed its personal significance for the artist, who has sometimes found his work censored from display: “For him, the word “Niggah” is not necessarily synonymous with the derisive use of the “N-word,” for it has been employed by some within the Black community as a term of endearment or as an expression of style . . . . Hendricks has paid a price for his defiance, but to be true to himself, his subjects, and his art, it is a price he has proven willing to pay.” (From The Barkley L. Hendricks Experience, Lyman Allyn Art Museum, 2001)

Kerry James Marshall and sculptor Isidore Konti both address themes of loss within their own time periods. Marshall’s Lost Boys: AKA BB, 1993, comes from a series of paintings partly inspired by J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. As the artist once stated, “I apply that concept of being lost in a Never, Never Land to a lot of young black men.” He portrays adolescents convicted and jailed, denied the opportunity to grow up by being lost in a system of institutional racism, with adult lives cut short through violence. In his small plaster figure group Consolation, 1914–18, Konti speaks to the disillusionment brought on by the First World War and envisions an allegorical mother to comfort humanity. Konti, an Austrian immigrant, would have been following news of the escalating bloodshed with a very personal fear for family and friends left behind.

Just as Konti used his figure to embody a theme, David Driskell does not portray a specific person in his Woman with Flowers, 1972. His figure is similarly quiet and inwardly focused, though the bright colors, flowers and cross motif of the composition, inject a vibrant note into what might be seen as pensive reflection.

We invite everyone to discover personal and community connections through these works of art, and to look at portraiture and other figural art in new ways. Check the our calendar for related programs, including talks by Christian Stegall, the Museum’s Samuel H. Kress Foundation Interpretive Fellow, who will lead discussions about these works and more in “Artful Impact: Come, Look, Respond!” We look forward to your participation.

Kerry James Marshall (American, b. 1955). Lost Boys: AKA BB, 1993. Acrylic and collage on canvas. On loan from Art Bridges. © Kerry James Marshall. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.