Thursday, January 22, 2015

Romare Bearden's Paris Odyssey - The Exhibition

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a Paris Soirée presentation that Professor Bob O'Meally gave about the Paris Odyssey exhibition that opened this Monday at Columbia Global Centers at Reid Hall. Though I listened with rapt attention and was entirely captivated by his talk, I was not prepared for the breadth, depth, and richness of this show.

Romare Bearden
1977 Collage of various papers with foil, paint, and graphite on fiberboard
Image courtesy of Professor Robert O'Meally

The opening reception, held on Monday, January 19th, was very well attended.

Professor O'Meally, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger, and Columbia Global Centers Europe director Paul LeClerc launched the exhibit with powerful and thoughtful words, followed by musicians who "called forth the spirits" in a room packed with visitors and flanked by tables laden with hors d'oeuvres, sandwiches, champagne, and soft drinks.

Robert O'Meally (left), Lee Bollinger (top right), Paul LeClerc (bottom right)
© Discover Paris!

Musicians at opening reception
© Discover Paris!

Guests at opening reception
© Discover Paris!

The Grande Salle at Reid Hall is hung with scrolls of luminous white paper, against which play the vibrant colors and shapes of reproductions of works from Romare Bearden's Black Odyssey.

La Grande Salle
© Discover Paris!

Labels and panels are presented in English and French, which is important since Professor O'Meally stressed during his opening remarks that the majority of French people had never heard of Romare Bearden prior to learning about this show.

The official name of the exhibition is Paris Odyssey: Romare Bearden, Henri Matisse, and Homer.

It has two themes that make it both local and global in scope: Homer's epic poems - The Odyssey and The Iliad - and jazz.

Matisse was the most important source of artistic influence on Bearden and both men created works inspired by these themes. Reproductions from Matisse's book Jazz (1947) and several of his Odyssean drawings (1935) are displayed with reproductions of Bearden's Paris Jazz series (ca. 1980), his Iliad drawings (1946), and his Odyssey collages (1977).

The Clown
Henri Matisse
1947 Reproduction of the pochoir for Jazz
© Discover Paris!

Ellington, Bill Strayhorn (Sacré Coeur)
Romare Bearden
ca. 1980 Reproduction of collage
© Discover Paris!

Six framed, original silkscreens of Bearden's most captivating Odyssean collages are the highlight of the show. They are located in an enclosed area at the rear of the room. The Sirens' Song is my personal favorite!

© Discover Paris!

The Sirens' Song
Romare Bearden
1977 collage (above); 1979 silkscreen (below)
Collage by Discover Paris!

A video in one corner of the room reveals how the exhibition literally touches the life of each and every Columbia University undergraduate (all are required to read The Odyssey and The Iliad), reaches up through the ranks of Columbia's faculty as professors are challenged to reflect upon and present scholarly interpretations of the exhibition's works, and draws upon Bearden's passion for music as inspiration for his art.

Romare Bearden in Harlem
© Discover Paris!

One of the things that Professor O'Meally encourages visitors to note is that Bearden chose to make all of the subjects in his collages, from the Greek deities to Odysseus himself, black. He believes that Bearden wanted people of African descent to see themselves in Homer's tales and wanted non-black viewers to see themselves in these black characters as well.

In the final paragraph of the introduction to the catalog for the show, Professor O'Meally states:

Maybe above all Bearden's point here is that we are all one global family, saints and sinners, all a collage of a human race living in a shape-shifting world. That we could only realize this global kinship and the mighty sense of responsibility it brings: this seems to be the over-riding message of these bright blue pieced-together pictures.

Paris Odyssey: Romare Bearden, Henri Matisse, and Homer will run until February 22, 2015 and will be open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at

Columbia Global Centers | Europe
4 rue de Chevreuse
75006 Paris

You don't want to miss this!

Banner for Paris Odyssey - Reid Hall
© Discover Paris!


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Patricia A. Patton said...

Bearden opened me to art in 1971when I saw his exhibition,The Prevalence of Ritual, at MOMA in New York. I was forever changed. Who can get enough of his work.

Katherine Ellington said...

Wonderful commentary. The Siren's Song is my favorite too. Great insight! Prof O'Meally is just phenomenal.