Throughout the 1960s, a decade marked by an ardent civil rights fight that swept the American nation, many artists found themselves on the side of a burgeoning protest movement. From assemblage artists to Minimalist masters to Pop Art figures, those working in a wide breadth of media turned to art as an act of political defiance. They painted, sculpted, and photographed to comment on the social turmoil that surrounded them, creating visual symbols of resistance, liberation and empowerment.
An upcoming exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art pays tribute to this period in U.S. history with "Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties." The 103-piece show presents 66 artists of various races and ethnicities who created works informed by their own opinions of injustice and conflict 50 years ago.
Benny Andrews (American, 1930–2006). Witness (detail), 1968. Oil on canvas with painted fabric collage, 48 x 48 in. (121.9 x 121.9 cm). © Estate of Benny Andrews/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo: Matthew Newton, courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY
The exhibition is organized according to themes like "American Nightmare," "Black Is Beautiful," "Sisterhood" and "Politicizing Pop." Staged in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the artworks on display range from Jack Whitten’s "Birmingham 1964," an assembled homage to the violence that rocked the Alabama town, to Norman Rockwell's "New Kids in the Neighborhood," a fictional portrait of two black children confronting their new white neighbors in the suburbs.
Many familiar images appear in the canvases and three-dimensional installations set to fill the halls of the Brooklyn art haven this March. Philip Guston's pink-tinted painting of three members of the Klu Klux Klan will hang near Robert Indiana's text-heavy indictment of the confederacy, featuring a loaded image of the American South. While these artworks conjure historical memories, other pieces -- like Jeff Donaldson's "Wives of Shango" and Emma Amos' "Three Figures" -- reference self-identity and blackness, many times using the striking image of the female form, reappropriating the reclining nude or the goddess stance as a visual for change.
Check out a preview of "Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties" below. Let us know your thoughts on the exhibition in the comments.
Emma Amos (American, born 1938). Three Figures, 1966. Oil on canvas, 60 x 50 in. (152.4 x 127 cm). Collection of the artist. © Emma Amos / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo: Becket Logan
Robert Indiana (American, born 1928). The Confederacy: Alabama, 1965. Oil on canvas, 70 x 60 in. (177.8 x 152.4 cm). Miami University Art Museum, Oxford, Ohio, Gift of Walter and Dawn Clark Netsch. © 2013 Morgan Art Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Jacob Lawrence (American, 1917–2000). Soldiers and Students, 1962. Opaque watercolor over graphite on wove paper, 22 7/16 x 30 7/16 in (57 x 77.3 cm). Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, bequest of Jay R. Wolf, Class of 1951. © 2013 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Philip Guston (American, born Canada, 1913–1980). City Limits, 1969. Oil on canvas, 77 x 103 1/4 in. (195.6 x 262.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Musa Guston, 1991. © The Estate of Philip Guston
Moneta Sleet Jr. (American, 1926–1996). Rosa Parks, Dr. and Mrs. Abernathy, Dr. Ralph Bunche, and Dr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr. leading marchers into Montgomery, 1965, printed circa 1970. Gelatin silver print, 13 3/8 x 10 3/4 in. (34 x 27.3 cm). Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of the Johnson Publishing Company, 426:1991. © Johnson Publishing Company, LLC
Jack Whitten (American, born 1939). Birmingham 1964. Aluminum foil, newsprint, stocking, and oil on plywood, 16 5/8 x 16 in. (42.2 x 40.6 cm). Collection of the artist, courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York. © Jack Whitten
David Hammons (American, born 1943). The Door (Admissions Office), 1969. Wood, acrylic sheet, and pigment construction, 79 x 48 x 15 in. (200.7 x 122 x 38.1 cm). California African American Museum, Los Angeles, Collection of Friends, the Foundation of the California African American Museum. © David Hammons
Jeff Donaldson (American, 1932–2004). Wives of Shango, 1969. Watercolor with mixed media on paper, 30 x 22 in. (76.2 x 55.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of R. M. Atwater, Anna Wolfrom Dove, Alice Fiebiger, Joseph Fiebiger, Belle Campbell Harriss, and Emma L. Hyde, by exchange; Designated Purchase Fund, Mary Smith Dorward Fund, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, and Carll H. de Silver Fund, 2012.80.13. © Jameela K. Donaldson
Norman Rockwell (American, 1894–1978). New Kids in the Neighborhood (Negro in the Suburbs), 1967. Oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 57 1/2 in. (92.7 x 146.1 cm). Story illustration for Look, May 16, 1967. Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Printed by permission of the Norman Rockwell Family Agency. © 2013 the Norman Rockwell Family Entities
Jae Jarrell (American, born 1935). Urban Wall Suit, circa 1969. Dyed and printed silk with paint, 38 x 21 x 10 (96.5 x 53.3 x 25.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of R. M. Atwater, Anna Wolfrom Dove, Alice Fiebiger, Joseph Fiebiger, Belle Campbell Harriss, and Emma L. Hyde, by exchange; Designated Purchase Fund, Mary Smith Dorward Fund, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, and Carll H. de Silver Fund, 2012.80.16. © Jae Jarrell
Barkley L. Hendricks (American, born 1945). Lawdy Mama, 1969. Oil and gold leaf on canvas, 53 3/4 x 36 1/4 in. (136.5 x 92.1 cm). The Studio Museum in Harlem, Gift of Stuart Liebman, in memory of Joseph B. Liebman, 83.25. © Barkley L. Hendricks. Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Edward Kienholz (American, 1927–1994). It Takes Two to Integrate (Cha Cha Cha), 1961. Painted dolls, dried fish, glass in wooden box, 31 1/4 x 22 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (79.4 x 57.2 x 19.1 cm). Collection of David R. Packard and M. Bernadette Castor, Portola Valley, California. © Kienholz. Photo: Courtesy of L.A. Louver, Venice, California
Elizabeth Catlett (American, 1915–2012). Homage to My Young Black Sisters, 1968. Cedar, 68 x 12 x 12 in. (172.7 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm). Collection of Reginald and Aliya Browne. © Catlett Mora Family Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo: Erwin Gaspin
"Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties," a touring exhibition, will be on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art from March 7 to July 6, 2014.