Sarasota, FL May 18, 2021—The first comprehensive retrospective of Robert Colescott, one of our country’s most compelling artists and accomplished painters, will open at Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College on May 29. Bringing together 54 works spanning over 50 years of Colescott’s prolific career, Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott, explores the work of an artist who — through vibrant paintings laced with biting satire — confronted issues of race, gender, identity, and the uncomfortable realities of U.S. life in the latter half of the 20th century.
Curated by Lowery Stokes Sims and organized by Raphaela Platow,Art and Race Matters originated at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati and will remain on view at SAM through October 31, 2021. Lowery is the recipient of the inaugural Sarasota Art Museum Cura Award, recognizing significant achievements in the field of art curation.
Over a nearly six-decade painting career, Robert Colescott (b. 1925, Oakland, CA; d. 2009, Tucson, AZ) was a proud instigator who fearlessly tackled subjects of social and racial inequality, class structure, and the human condition through his uniquely rhythmic and often manic style of figuration. Colescott’s distinctive works, while not easily placed within any one specific school of painting, share elements of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, “Bad” painting, Renaissance painting, Neo-Expressionism, and Surrealism.
As testament to his massive contributions and stature, Colescott was chosen to represent the United States at the 1997 Venice Biennale. Art and Race Matters is the first complete survey of Colescott’s work since his mid-career retrospective in 1987, which was hosted by the CAC.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a major publication—the most comprehensive to date—published by Rizzoli Electa, which features stylistic analyses of his work; summaries of critical responses; interviews, reminiscences, and perspectives from family members, associates, and students; along with a selection of writings by the artist himself.
Equally adept at figuration and abstraction, his figurative compositions at first glance seem to tilt and spiral off of their axis and are ultimately held together with a masterful sense of balance. Colescott’s intense interest in critiquing painting’s failure to accurately represent the Black experience is manifested in a lifetime of work that offers a revisionist art historical narrative and has subsequently influenced an entire generation of artists.
“Given the crisis of race relations, image management, and political manipulation in the current American—indeed the global—landscape,” noted Sims, “Colescott’s perspectives on race, life, social mores, historical heritage, and cultural hybridity allow us a means—if we are up to the task—to forthrightly confront what the state of world culture will be in the next decade.”
Known for satirical figurative paintings that expose the ugly ironies of racism in America, Robert Colescott (1925-2009) worked at the vanguard of the resurgence of figuration in art starting in the 1970s, which marked the emergence of post-modernist thought. He infused his works with narrative, humor, and cultural criticism long before it became common for artists to do so. Through his subversive appropriation of existing imagery from pop culture, mass media, and the art historical canon, Colescott reclaimed racist stereotypes and lampooned prevalent mythologies about Blackness. This visually outspoken work therefore addresses issues of race and gender hierarchies, oppressive power structures, and societal taboos—with a biting satirical touch—exposing the absurdity of ideas that often go unchallenged.
Art and Race Matters invites a renewed examination of the artist, whose work is still as challenging, provocative, and relevant now as it was when he burst onto the art scene over five decades ago. Presenting works from across Colescott’s career, the exhibition traces the progression of his stylistic development and the impact of place on his practice, revealing the diversity and range of his oeuvre: from his adaptations of Bay Area Figuration in the 1950s and 60s, to his signature graphic style of the 1970s, and the dense, painterly figuration of his later work. Art and Race Matters also explores prevalent themes in Colescott’s work, including the complexities of identity, societal standards of beauty, the reality of the “American Dream,” and the role of the artist as arbiter and witness in contemporary life.
“Colescott’s exploration of race, identity, and politics is as pointed and pertinent now as ever and will help catalyze public discussion of pressing issues we are facing as a society,” said Platow. “In presenting the full-sweep of Colescott’s career, our goal is to also assert his seminal contributions to both post-War American art and to contemporary artists today working in the U.S. and internationally.”
Major support of the exhibition has been provided by the Henry Luce Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Richard Rosenthal; the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for the research phase of the exhibition and the exhibition itself; and the Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation for its support of the catalogue. The exhibition was also awarded a Sotheby’s Prize in 2018 in recognition of curatorial excellence and its exploration of an overlooked and under-represented area of art history.
Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott is accompanied by a fully illustrated 252-page catalogue published by Rizzoli Electa. Featuring contributions by more than ten curators and writers, including Richard Powell, Joseph S. Lewis, Barry Blinderman, and Mimi Roberts, along with a major essay by exhibition co-curator Lowery Sims Stokes and a selection of writings by the artist himself. The publication is the most comprehensive volume devoted to the life and work of Robert Colescott to date and includes important new research on the artist’s chronology, exhibition history, and bibliography by Matthew Weseley.
About Robert Colescott (1925-2009)
Robert Colescott’s paintings evoke powerful emotions and thoughtful contemplation—engaging themes of race, gender, and social inequality. His first major retrospective was organized in 1987 by the San Jose Museum of Art and subsequently traveled to the Contemporary Arts Center, among other venues. In 1997, Colescott was the first African American painter to have a solo exhibit at the Venice Biennale in Italy. His work is in the permanent collections of many museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Oakland Museum.
Colescott was born in 1925 in Oakland, California, where his father was as a waiter on a dining car on the Southern Pacific Railroad. The politics of race and social justice were woven into Colescott’s everyday life and experience of this city. Colescott left Oakland to fight in the 86th Blackhawk Division during World War II. He returned to the Bay Area and enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley on the GI Bill, earning his B.A. in 1949. After receiving his degree, he spent a year in Paris at the Atelier Fernand Leger and then returned to Berkeley, earning an M.A. in 1951.
In 1964, Colescott spent a year as Faculty Artist in Residence at the American Research Center in Cairo, prompting a period of transformation as his work grew more graphic and explicitly political. Colescott received international recognition for his satirical re-envisioning of American history in paintings like George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware (1975). Later work brought together personal, political, and societal issues. Paintings such as The Other Washingtons (1987), Arabs: The Emir of Iswid (How Wide the Gulf?)of 1992, Choctow Nickel (1994), and The Bi-lingual Cop (1995) demonstrate Colescott’s perceptive and prescient view of world events.
About the Curators
Lowery Stokes Sims is an independent art historian and curator who was a close associate of Colescott and wrote about and exhibited his work for over forty years. She retired as Curator Emerita from the Museum of Arts and Design in New York where she served as the Charles Bronfman International Curator and the William and Mildred Ladson Chief Curator from 2007 to 2015. Prior to her tenure at MAD, Sims served as Executive Director, President, and Adjunct Curator for the permanent collection at the Studio Museum in Harlem from 2000 to 2007. Previously, she served on the education and curatorial staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1972 to 1999 where she curated over thirty exhibitions.
A specialist in modern and contemporary art, craft, and design, Sims is known for her particular interest in a diverse and inclusive global art world and has supported a variety of artists whose identities and work reflect those values.
Raphaela Platow, the CAC’s Alice & Harris Weston Director and Chief Curator, is an internationally respected art curator and art historian. A native of Munich, she joined the CAC from the Rose Art Museum in Massachusetts. Prior to the Rose, she was the International Curator with the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina, was a staff member of the German pavilion at the 1999 Venice Biennale, and worked in several galleries, project spaces, and has written extensively about contemporary art. She earned a M.A. in art history and business administration from Humboldt University in Berlin, and her B.A. in art history and economics from Albert-Ludwig University in Freiburg. Platow has certificates in French civilization, art history, and philosophy from the University of Sorbonne in Paris.
Matthew Weseley is an independent art historian. He earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Stanford University, a master’s degree in education from Smith College, and a master’s degree in art history from the University of California, Davis. He is currently working on an academic monograph on the work of Robert Colescott.
All images must include the full credits and captions included with each image, which are provided below and included in the “details” section of each high-resolution download link.
Robert Colescott, Sleeping Beauty?, 2002, Acrylic on canvas, 85 1/2 x 145 1/8 inches © 2021 The Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo Credit: Joshua White
Robert Colescott, 1919, 1980, Acrylic on canvas, 71 3/4 x 83 7/8 inches © 2021 The Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo Credit: Joshua Whitehttps://www.dropbox.com/sh/vsddy0vgjg620pj/AAD_IaJByz6HpukMyEqaPYKia?dl=0&preview=Colescott_1919.jpg
Robert Colescott, The Wreckage of the Medusa, 1978, Acrylic on canvas, 66 x 84 inches © 2021 The Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo Credit: Ray Litman
Robert Colescott, Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet, 1968, Acrylic on canvas, 78 1/2 x 59 inches © 2021 The Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo Credit: Heather Rasmussenhttps://www.dropbox.com/sh/vsddy0vgjg620pj/AAD_IaJByz6HpukMyEqaPYKia?dl=0&preview=Colescott_Dr.+Erlich%27s+Magic+Bullet.jpg
Robert Colescott, Interior II – Homage to Roy Lichtenstein, 1991, Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 18 inches © 2021 The Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
About Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College of Art and Design
Sarasota Art Museum is a catalyst for appreciation andunderstanding of the art of our time. As a platform for exposure, education, and experimentation, the Museum inspires new ideasand new ways of being through an endless rotation of transformative, relevant, and pioneering exhibitions and programs designed to elevate and empower all by cultivating discerning visualthinkers and ethical citizens.
A contemporary kunsthalle operating under the parent institution of Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota Art Museum is located at 1001 S. Tamiami Trail. This location also houses the College’s Continuing Studies program, comprised of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Ringling College and the non-credit Studio and Digital Arts program. Taking over the former Sarasota High School — a 60,000-square-foot 1926 Collegiate Gothic structure designed by M. Leo Elliott — and a 20,000-square-foot building by Paul Rudolph through a 99-year lease, the adaptive reuse project was led by Lawson Group Architects with Terence Riley, principal of K/R, as theMuseum design architect.
Sarasota Art Museum has 15,000 square feet of dedicated exhibition space; site-specific and site-responsive art installations; a plaza court featuring sculpture; a Great Lawn for temporary sculpture, installation, and performance programming; a 110-seat auditorium foreducational events and performances; a Bistro café; and a retail store. Sarasota Art Museum also offers stunning event spaces availablefor rent. www.sarasotaartmuseum.org
Sarasota Art Museum Hours and Admission:
10 am to 5 pm Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. 11 am to 5 pm Sunday
Galleries are closed Tuesdays, Museum Shop andGrounds are open 10 am to 5 pm.
Museum Members Free
General Admission $15
Free General Admission:
– Cross College Alliance Students with ID
– Veterans and Active Military with ID
– Under 17 accompanied by adult
– Ringling College Students, Faculty, and Staff