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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Beauford's "The Burning Bush" in "Modern Heroics" Exhibition at the Newark Museum

The Newark Museum is currently holding a six-month exhibition of African-American expressionist art called Modern Heroics: 75 Years of African-American Expressionism at the Newark Museum. It opens today.

The museum's Web page describes the show as featuring "34 paintings and sculptural works with an emphasis on storytelling and expressive imagery" and says that it "brings together rarely exhibited works by leading historical and contemporary African-American artists, placing in dialogue several generations and a range of self-taught and formally trained approaches."

In an article that I published several years ago, I reported that the Newark Museum holds two Beauford Delaney works and that only one was on display. This work, called The Burning Bush, is part of the Modern Heroics exhibition. Dated 1941, the year that Beauford revealed himself publicly as a modernist (according to biographer David A. Leeming), it is the earliest work included in the exhibition.

The Burning Bush
(1941) Oil on paperboard
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

The introduction for the exhibition catalog, written by Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Curator of American Art, describes The Burning Bush as follows:

A compact, thickly painted composition of an abstract landscape, The Burning Bush reinterprets the Old Testament story in which God appeared to Moses as a burning bush: divinity and nature seem to converge in this forceful scene.

Regarding Beauford and his relationship with the museum, Bloom says:

Delaney happened to play an important role in building Newark’s permanent collection of African-American art. In 1943 he made a gift to the Museum of a work on paper made that year, titled Portrait of a Man. This pastel drawing became the second work by an African-American artist to enter Newark’s permanent collection.

Portrait of a Man
(1943) Pastel on paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

A series of handwritten and typed letters between Delaney and Beatrice Windsor (director of the Newark Museum from 1929 to 1947) reveals a simple but significant exchange that was catalyzing for the growth of the collection. Ms. Windsor, who knew Delaney personally, made a gift to him of several frames, and as a gesture of thanks Delaney made a gift to the Museum of his work.

In the correspondence between Delaney and Windsor both expressed sincere appreciation for the other’s gift, and the following year Newark organized its first original show dedicated to African-American art—an exhibition to which Delaney, Norman Lewis, Romare Bearden and ten other artists lent their work directly.

Nearly half of the artists included in that 1944 show are now represented in Newark’s permanent collection, a living testament to the Museum’s commitment to the art of today.

During the Modern Heroics exhibition, The Burning Bush will be displayed in the featured exhibition space on the first floor of the museum.

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