Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott

September 20, 2019 – January 12, 2020

More information on the exhibition

The Contemporary Arts Center is proud to open our 2019-2020 exhibition season with Art and Race Matters, the first comprehensive retrospective of one of America's most compelling and controversial artists, Robert Colescott (1925-2009). The exhibition will reveal 85 total works throughout 53 years of his career that both bring to the surface and challenge diversity and racial stereotypes. Art and Race Matters is co-curated by Lowery Stokes Sims and Matthew Weseley, long-time Colescott scholars, and organized by the CAC's Alice Weston & Harris Director, Raphaela Platow. 

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue and will be touring several museums around the United States all facilitated by the CAC. 

"Given the crises of race relations, political propaganda and image manipulation in the current American landscape, Colescott's career has never been more relevant," says Co-Curator Lowery Sims. "His perspectives on race, life, social mores, historical heritage and cultural hybridity allow us to forthrightly confront what the state of global culture will be in the immediate future." Colescott's approach to his paintings--in what seems like an offhand, sarcastic, satirical and even caustic manner--allows us to confront what the state of global culture will be in the next decade.

The CAC was awarded a Sotheby's Prize for Art and Race Matters in winter of 2018 for curatorial excellence and putting together an exhibition that will break new ground and challenge our understanding of art today. The exhibition will approach Colescott's work both in terms of chronology and the themes and subjects he dealt with over the course of his career. It will explore his oeuvre through issues such as the American Dream and assimilation aspirations, mass media imagery, notions of beauty, sexual and gender transgressions to name a few.

"Robert Colescott is an artist I have been interested in for a long time as a painter and astute purveyor of American society," says CAC Alice & Harris Weston Director, Raphaela Platow. "I feel strongly that Colescott's exploration of race, identity and politics in the US are as pertinent as ever. This major survey outlining Colescott's overall contribution is a timely undertaking that will also reevaluate the artists place within the art discourse."

Robert Colescott (1925-2009)

Robert Colescott's paintings evoke powerful emotions and thoughtful contemplation--engaging themes of race, gender, and social inequality. His art is both highly charged and intrinsically beautiful. In 1997, Colescott was the first African American painter to have a solo exhibit at the Venice Biennale in Italy. His work is in the permanent collections of many museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA; the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; and the Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA. 

Colescott was born in 1925 in Oakland, California, where his father was based as a Pullman porter. The politics of race and social justice were central to everyday life in Colescott's experience of this city. Both of Colescott's parents were accomplished musicians who played jazz, blues, and classical music. Colescott left Oakland to fight in the 86th Blackhawk Division during World War II. He returned to the Bay Area and the University of California at Berkeley, on the GI Bill, and earned his B.A. in 1949. After receiving his degree, he spent a year in Paris at the Atelier Fernand Leger and then came back to Berkeley, earning an M.A. in 1952.

In 1964, he spent a year as Faculty Artist in Residence at the American Research Center in Cairo--prompting a period of transformation as his work grew more graphic and explicitly political. Colescott received international recognition for his satirical re-envisioning of American history in paintings like George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware (1975). Later work brought together personal issues with political life, like the 1992 painting A Fool There Was, Europe-Africa. Robert Colescott passed away in 2009. 

Lowery Stokes Sims

Lowery Stokes Sims (b.1949) is the retired Curator Emerita at the Museum of Arts and Design, where between 2007 and 2015, she served as the Charles Bronfman International Curator and then the William and Mildred Lasdon Chief Curator.

A specialist in modern and contemporary art she is known for her particular expertise in the work of African, Latino, Native and Asian American artists. She has published extensively and her research on the work of the Afro-Cuban Chinese Surrealist artist Wifredo Lam was published by the University of Texas Press in 2002. In 1997, she organized a survey of the work of Richard Pousette-Dart at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. 

Sims has lectured nationally and internationally and guest curated numerous exhibitions, most recently at the National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica (2004); The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH; and the New York Historical Society, New York, NY (2006). She is the editor and an essayist for the catalogue of the National Museum of the American Indian's 2008 retrospective of Fritz Scholder. In 2003 and 2004, Sims served on the jury for the memorial for the World Trade Center and between 2004 and 2006, served as the chair of the Cultural Institutions Group, a coalition of museums, zoos, botanical gardens and performing organizations funded by the City of New York. Sims was a fellow at the Clark Art Institute in spring 2007. In 2005 and 2006, she was Visiting Professor at Queens College and Hunter College in New York City and in fall 2007, Visiting Scholar in the Department of Art at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

Matthew Weseley

Matthew Weseley is an unaffiliated art historian. He earned a bachelor's degree in art history from Stanford University, a master's degree in education from Smith College, and a master's degree in art history from the University of California, Davis. He is currently at work on a monograph on the art of Robert Colescott.

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