On Exhibit: Works by Dox Thrash, Elizabeth Catlett and others on view at The Hyde

Two art pieces, an etching of three people with design and a linoleum cut of a person in a wide hat

Left: Eldzier Cortor (born 1916), “Dance Composition #35,” (early 1990s), One color aquatint and line etching, The Harmon & Harriet Kelley Collection / © ARS, New York. Right: Elizabeth Catlett (1915–2012), “Sharecropper,” 1952. Two-color linoleum cut, The Harmon & Harriet Kelley Collection / © ARS, New York.

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A sweeping array of works from Dox Thrash, Elizabeth Catlett, Robert Blackburn, Romare Bearden and others make for an impressive and surprisingly joyful exhibit at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls.

The 65 works on view are all part of “The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art: Works on Paper.” Spread throughout the museum’s largest gallery, the exhibit features works from 20th-century artists who were often overlooked.

It mainly features representational work depicting everyday life. It’s organized thematically rather than chronologically and starts with a section on labor.

One of the most striking pieces in the show is Catlett’s linoleum cut “Sharecropper,” which features a figure looking out past the viewer, their cheeks and nose glowing, perhaps from the sun despite their wide-brimmed hat.

Further along, there are a few landscapes, including Lois Mailou Jones’ “A Shady Nook, Le Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris,” a peaceful screen print with rich, verdant greens. A drawing from Thrash is also in the mix, featuring boats on the water under a moody sky.

The heart of the exhibit is centered around family and community. One standout in that section is Whitfield Lovell’s “Chance,” a portrait of a woman in a gray wash, with a hand of black and red playing cards fanned out in the foreground. Further on, a piece by Sargent Johnson, depicts two singers performing, one strumming an instrument. The figures are done in an exaggerated, sculptural style.

While the exhibit doesn’t necessarily shy away from slavery and the Civil Rights movement there’s a relatively small representation of those themes in the show — only seven works out of 65.

“That’s very much by design,” said Derin Tanyol, the curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, who helped bring the traveling exhibition to the Hyde. She noted that Harriet Kelley said she wanted the exhibit to reflect African Americans as having positive, rich, fulfilling family life work life but couldn’t leave racial politics out of the story altogether. Some of those works are more disturbing, including Charles White’s “Wanted poster Series #14,” featuring depictions of two young Black men and inspired by the pre-Civil War posters that advertised rewards for those who returned runaway slaves.

On a mission

The Kelleys began collecting in the 1980s, after visiting an exhibit of African American artists at the San Antonio Museum of Art and not recognizing the names of the artists.

“They established a mission to not only learn more about the artists represented by that important heritage but also to support the artists by buying their work,” Tanyol said.

That mainly meant figurative works, though there is also a variety of more non-representational works. The show wraps up with a section on modernism and abstraction, which rolls into the works on view in the next gallery, which are by color field painter Sam Gilliam. It’s a small show, with three works and a video presentation. Tanyol sees it as a companion exhibit.

“I wanted to create a conversation between the fact that Gilliam was really one of the first Black artists to paint abstractly while you’ll see most of the works in the [‘Harmon and Harriett Kelley Collection] are figurative,” Tanyol said.

Gilliam’s works are a riotous mix of colors, particularly “Asking,” the largest work on view. The canvas is filled with splashes of deep blues, vibrant red and bright yellow. Gilliam, who died last year, was known for his technique of working with unstretched canvas and tying or pinning certain sections of the canvas together once paint has been applied, creating unpredictable patterns.

“One of the things I love about Gilliams’ work is that there’s no one way to feel in front of his works,” Tanyol said. “You can . . . feel immersed and contemplative and meditative. But at the same time, the color is so high key and so energetic, that you might find yourself in the middle of a meditation just wanting to get up and dance.” 

Looking ahead

Both are striking shows leading into what seems like a strong exhibition year for the Hyde, which celebrates its 60th year. This summer, the museum will feature an exhibit on collector Charlotte Pruyn Hyde and “Songs of the Horizon: David Smith, Music, and Dance.” Later this year works from Edgar Degas will adorn the walls.

In recent months the Hyde has also brought on a host of new curators, including Tanyol, Bryn Schockmel, the curator of the permanent collection. and Rachel Lovelace-Portal, the registrar and collections manager.

“We’re really at the dawn of something new and exciting,” Tanyol said.

“The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art: Works on Paper” will be up through April 23. The Sam Gilliam works will also be up through that date. If you go, don’t miss “Jean Arp: Nature Without Measure,” an exhibit that features works from the Feibes & Schmitt Collection. For more information visit hydecollection.org.

Categories: Art, Life and Arts

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