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Rewriting the Modern: New Perspectives on Romare Bearden and Archibald Motley



Genealogies of continuity and disruption frequently shape the terms of the art-historical debate when discussing the gestures and insurgencies of form encapsulated in the term “modernist.” Narratives of rupture have often signaled a double bind for African American art. As a field, its existence arguably suggests the need for a paradigm shift in the teleology of Western art history. Yet the terms of this debate can often, albeit unintentionally, foreground social relevance to the detriment of artistic influence. Black artists become the supplement to, rather than catalysts of, artistic change. Their modernity is almost a byproduct: a result of these space-making gestures of “insertion” rather than an assertion of their own creative impulse.



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1 Amy Mooney, “The Portraits of Archibald Motley and the Visualization of Black Modern Subjectivity,” in Richard J. Powell, ed., Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist (Durham, NC: Duke University Museum of Art, 2014), 19–45, 21.

2 Ibid., 26.

3 Davarian L. Baldwin, “Midnight Was Like Day: Strolling through Archibald Motley's Bronzeville,” in Powell, Archibald Motley, 47–84, 47.

4 Ibid., 49.

5 Ibid., 49–50.

6 Oliver Meslay, “Motley's Paris, Missed Opportunities,” in Powell, Archibald Motley, 83–108, 83–84.

7 Richard J. Powell, “Becoming Motley, Becoming Modern,” in Powell, Archibald Motley, 109–47, 145.

8 Langston Hughes, “When the Negro Was in Vogue,” in The Collected Works of Langston Hughes, ed. Arnold Rampersad and Ramona Bass (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 175–81.

9 Powell, “Becoming Motley, Becoming Modern,” 127.

10 Ibid., 128.

11 Ibid., 125.

12 Darby English, “Ralph Ellison's Romare Bearden,” in Ruth Fine and Jacqueline Francis, eds., Romare Bearden: American Modernist (Washington, DC and New Haven: National Gallery of Art and Yale University Press, 2011), 11–26, 23.

13 Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, “Heroic Moments of Modernity: Romare Bearden, Carlos Enriquez, and the Poetic Lament,” in Fine and Francis, 27–42, 40.

14 Richard J. Powell, “The Woodshed,” in Fine and Francis, 199–206, 205.

15 Jacqueline Francis, “Bearden's Hands,” in Fine and Francis, 119–42, 121.

16 Patricia Hills, “Cultural Legacies and the Transformation of the Cubist Collage Aesthetic by Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Other Afro-American Artists,” in Fine and Francis, 221–48, 243.

17 English, 23.

Rewriting the Modern: New Perspectives on Romare Bearden and Archibald Motley



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