Robert Colescott: Women
November 15, 2022 – January 14, 2023
Venus over Manhattan
55 Great Jones Street
New York, NY 10012
Venus over Manhattan is pleased to present Robert Colescott: Women, an exhibition organized to trace the evolution of the artist’s representations of female subjects during her sixty-year career. Serve as a coda to the recent critically acclaimed traveling museum retrospective Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott, this presentation traces the evolution of Colescott’s ambitious practice through some thirty works produced between 1955 and 1996. Organized in close collaboration with The Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust, the exhibition Venus Over Manhattan is the first to trace the evolution of female representations of Colescott through major works from key moments in her career.
Robert Colescott: Women will be on view in downtown Venus Over Manhattan at 55 Great Jones Street from November 15, 2022 through January 14, 2023.
Nearly fifteen years after his death, Robert Colescott remains best known for his bold, satirical and racist paintings such as Eat Dem Taters (1974), George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook (1975) and Natural Rhythm: Thank You Jan Van Eyck (1976), who recast familiar Eurocentric compositions to intervene”[B]lack of people in the history of art.
Populated with a cast of racist and misogynistic caricatures, these straightforward appropriations draw on the artist’s signature blend of confrontational humor, startling subject matter and bright color to undermine widely held cultural assumptions about history, race and sex. These bawdy, awkward works date from the middle of Colescott’s career – he was fifty the year he painted George Washington Carver – but their concerns and the painful stereotypes they used to address them were not new to his practice.
A light-skinned black man raised to pass as white (and whose brother identified as white), Colescott produced work that often exploited racist and sexist imagery to address his “perception of himself as a ‘black man and artist in America’.
Linking his private concerns to public issues, Colescott deployed this imagery with varying intensity throughout his career, but his work is consistent with an outspoken engagement with the female figure, which he used to explore her complex relationship – and sometimes reprehensible – with women.
Writing about her career in 1987, curator Lowery Stokes Sims noted that “Colescott’s portrayals of women provided some of his most interesting and relentless imagery”, and until the end of his career Colescott would continue to cast women in difficult roles, considering the overlapping effects of race, power and stereotypes on their position in society and in one’s own life.
Colescott developed a cohesive set of visual strategies that he used to explore increasingly complex topics around the genre, many of which are evident in his early work. We Are Two (1955), the first painting in the exhibition, uses strategic doubling to render a pair of nude figures and makes its subjects racially ambiguous with expressionist brushwork fashionable at the time. In Cloud Watch (1963), a naked man and woman lounge in a sparsely furnished interior, from where the woman observes a bucolic landscape through large windows that cross the composition.
The window allowed Colescott to juxtapose interior and exterior space, and he would continue to exploit the visual possibilities of what he called the “magic window” to great effect in his later work. Discussing this strategy, Colescott described the window as “a sort of barrier” that allowed “looking at two existing aircraft. The outside didn’t just look through a window, but the outside seemed like a very different kind of place, and maybe from a different time. In his depictions of women, Colescott frequently juxtaposed discontinuous scenes to animate tensions over race and gender and draw visual distinctions between art and reality.
©2022 Robert Colescott, Venus over Manhattan
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