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October 24, 2018 to February 17, 2019

The Wallach Art Gallery
Lenfest Center for the Arts
Columbia Manhattanville
125th and Broadway

Wallach Art Gallery

Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet to Matisse and Beyond

Posing Modernity proposes that changing modes of representation for the black female figure are foundational to the development of modern art, as seen in iconic images from Édouard Manet to Henri Matisse, Romare Bearden and successive generations. The exhibition starts with Manet’s portrait of Laure, the model who posed the maid in Olympia. Complemented by Manet’s acolyte Frédéric Bazille’s paintings of black female flower-bearers, in tribute to Manet, the evolving image of modern black femininity is situated in the newly-rebuilt northern Paris neighborhoods where Manet and the Impressionists lived and worked near a post-abolition population of free black Parisians. Black residents portrayed by these artists included workers, students, entertainers, artists’ models; the famed writers Alexandre Dumas père and fils; Jeanne Duval, mistress of Manet’s friend the poet Charles Baudelaire; and others who circulated within Manet's artistic milieu.

The second section reveals an unexpected affinity between the urbane Manet of 1860s Paris and an eden-seeking Matisse at the Villa Le Rêve near 1940s Nice, seen through resonances of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal in each artist's work. Matisse paintings and drawings posed by two principal black models, New York-based Haitian dancer Carmen, and the Belgian-Congolese Mme Van Hyfte, will be explored in the context of Matisse’s little-studied 1930s visits to black theater and Harlem jazz clubs. Affinities of the Matisse works with portraiture of the Harlem Renaissance (Charles Alston, Miguel Covarrubias, William H. Johnson, Laura Wheeler Waring, among others) highlight a fraught and evolving transformation of the black female figure from stereotype to icon of cosmopolitan beauty.

Posing Modernity concludes with an exploration of this legacy for modern and global contemporary artists, including Romare Bearden, Faith Ringgold, Lorraine O’Grady, Maud Sulter, Ellen Gallagher, Mickalene Thomas, and others.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated scholarly catalog co-published by Yale University Press, extensive public programming, and educational outreach.

Posing Modernity is curated by Denise Murrell, PhD, Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Wallach Art Gallery.