Nasher to present ‘Jazz Age’ exhibit
“Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist,” the first retrospective of the American artist's paintings in two decades, will originate at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University Jan. 30 before embarking on a national tour.
Despite the broad appeal of his paintings, Motley is one of the least visible 20th-century artists. Many of his most important portraits and cultural scenes remain in private collections; few museums have had the opportunity to acquire his work. Motley’s body of work spans 40 years, and “Jazz Age Modernist” will introduce wider audiences to his colorful works.
The exhibition includes 42 works from each period of Motley's lifelong career, from 1919 to 1960. Motley's scenes of life in the African-American community, often in his native Chicago, depict a parallel universe of labor and leisure. His portraits are voyeuristic but also examinations of race, gender and sexuality.
The exhibition also features his canvases of Jazz Age Paris and 1950s Mexico, as well as works that address slavery and racism.
These works will be on view together for the first time. The exhibition will be on view at the Nasher Museum through May 11, 2014.
Archibald John Motley Jr. (1891-1981) was born in New Orleans and lived and worked in the first half of the 20th century in a predominately white neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest side, a few miles from the city’s growing black community known as "Bronzeville." In his work, Motley examines this community, carefully constructing scenes that depict Chicago’s African-American elites, but also the worlds of the recently disembarked migrants from the South and other characters commonly overlooked.
In 1929, Motley won a Guggenheim Fellowship that funded a year of study in France, during which time he created “Blues,” a colorful, rhythm-inflected painting of Jazz Age Paris and several canvases that vividly capture the pulse and tempo of “la vie bohème.” Similar in spirit to his Chicago paintings, these Parisian canvases depict an African diaspora in Paris' meandering streets and congested cabarets.
In the 1950s, Motley made several lengthy visits to Mexico, where he created vivid depictions of life and landscapes. He died in Chicago in 1981.
The exhibit opens at the Nasher Museum and will travel to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Cultural Center and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
The exhibition is organized by Richard J. Powell, John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke.
“Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist” is accompanied by an illustrated exhibition catalogue with critical texts by scholars Davarian L. Baldwin, David C. Driskell, Oliver Meslay, Amy M. Mooney, Richard J. Powell and poet, essayist and novelist Ishmael Reed. The catalogue is published by the Nasher Museum and distributed by Duke University Press.
The exhibition will be complemented by free programs and events, including an opening talk; a student-organized Art for All event; film screenings; family day events; book discussions; sketching in the gallery; teacher workshops and more. The Nasher Museum will hold a daylong scholarly symposium related to the exhibition. In the spring 2014 term, curator Powell will teach a course at Duke focused on the exhibition.