Robert Colescott - George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware

”George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware”. Page from an American History Textbook,. Robert Colescott.

‘Figuring History’ at Seattle Art Museum

The Seattle Art Museum presents ‘Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas’ (February 15–May 13, 2018), a new exhibition featuring three leading American artists from three generations whose work redefines history painting in a contemporary context.

Source: Seattle Art Museum

The large-scale paintings on view are distinctive in style, subject matter, and in the historic moments they reference, but collectively they critique and redefine mainstream narratives of history and representation. In their portrayals, these artists provide testimony centered on black experience.

The genre of history painting occupies a privileged place in the history of European art. Beginning in the Renaissance with representations of mythological, religious, and literary themes, the most famous artists of the time were commissioned to commemorate pivotal historical events that defined national identities. These large-scale works, done in the grand style, were displayed in ceremonial venues and celebrated the ruling class. Colescott, Marshall, and Thomas all lay claim to the history of the genre, but with a poignant retelling of American history from a black perspective, giving prominence to histories and individuals that have been erased or suppressed.

The exhibition features loans from several institutions and collections, as well as works from SAM’s collection, including the recently acquired “Les Demoiselles d'Alabama: Vestidas” (1985) by Colescott. In addition, Mickalene Thomas plans to make three new works specifically for the exhibition.

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