Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Color Line - Part 1

The Color Line is the largest of the three exhibitions that I wrote about in my article on the display of works by African-American masters in Paris this fall and winter.

Musée du quai Branly entrance
© Discover Paris!

Simply put, it is a must-see!

When you think about it, the title of the exhibition - The Color Line: African-American Artists and Segregation - is vague. It could lead you to believe that artists are the focus of the show and that their personal experiences with segregation are featured - though not necessarily through art. It could signify that the show is comprised solely of works by African-American artists that represent various forms of segregation. It could indicate a combination of the two.

In fact, the exhibition is much broader than the possibilities mentioned above. It is not an art exhibition in the purest sense of the word. Rather, it is an exhibition about U.S. history in which an inordinate number of works of fine art are hung.

I attended the vernissage (opening) for The Color Line on October 3. When I left, I knew that it was impossible to grasp the depth of this exhibition in 1-2 hours. So I returned on November 30 and spent the majority of the day soaking in the content and experiencing the emotions that it stirred up in me.

The show is divided into fourteen sections:

  • Free, but Black . . . Reconstruction
  • Minstrels, Blackfaces, and Vaudevilles
  • First Battles against Segregation
  • W.E.B. Du Bois at the 1900 Paris Exposition
  • Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and Other Sports Champions
  • The Great War 1914-1948
  • Harlem Renaissance: The "New Negro"
  • A "Separate" Cinema
  • Strange Fruit: The Legacy of the Lynchings
  • After the Great Migration, The World War
  • Harlem on Their Minds
  • On the Way to "Civil Rights"
  • Black is Beautiful: Black Power, Black Muslims, Black Panthers
  • Contemporaries and African-Americans

There is an additional section created for the visually impaired called "Please Do Touch!" where four works by artists featured in the exhibition are displayed flat and in relief. They are at waist height and are accompanied by audio recordings in French and English as well as a written description of the work in braille.

The Banjo Lesson - Henry Ossawa Tanner
Display for the visually impaired
© Discover Paris!

In addition to numerous paintings, drawings, and sculptures, the exhibition contains reproductions of historic documents;

Signatures on the 13th amendment
© Discover Paris!

videos ranging from 2- to 3-minute informational clips to full length films with "all-colored" casts;

Bert Williams in "A Natural Born Gambler"
© Discover Paris!

vintage photographs and fliers;

The Black Patti - Miss Sissieretta Jones
© Discover Paris!

books (the content for some of them is displayed in slide shows);

12 Million Black Voices - Richard Wright
© Discover Paris!

magazine and album covers;

Black Panther Community News - covers
© Discover Paris!

and an art installation.

Autour du Monde
2008 Whitfield Lovell
© Discover Paris!

The art is simply splendid. Pieces date from the 19th century to the present day.

Most of the paintings and sculptures are representational.

The Young Sabot Maker
Henry Ossawa Tanner
1895 Oil on canvas
© Discover Paris!

Tongues (Holy Rollers)
Archibald J. Motley, Jr.
1929 Oil on canvas
© Discover Paris!

Richmond Barthé
1942 Bronze
© Discover Paris!

I was especially pleased to see a room dedicated to over 25 drawings by Albert Alexander Smith that depict the everyday life of soldiers during World War I

Room displaying drawings by Albert Alexander Smith
© Discover Paris!

as well as several comic drawings by Oliver Harrington, accompanied by comments that illustrate his dry wit.

"Practice Makes Perfect"
Oliver Harrington
© Discover Paris!

Paintings by Norman Lewis and Beauford Delaney contributed to the minority of abstract works in the exhibition.

Norman Lewis
1968 Oil on canvas
© Discover Paris!

Works by several women artists are presented in The Color Line. I'll talk about them in Part 2 of this post.


Entrée to Black Paris™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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