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Art and Race Matters: Robert Colescott at the New Museum, NYC

George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook, 1975. Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles, 2021. The Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Featuring approximately forty paintings, this exhibition highlights the sixty-year-long career of one of America’s most adventurous and subversive artists.

The bold and richly rendered works of Robert Colescott (1925–2009) traverse art history to offer a satirical take on issues of race, beauty, and American culture. Often ahead of his time, Colescott explored the ways in which personal and cultural identities are constructed and enacted through the language and history of painting. This presentation offers a long overdue celebration of Colescott as one of the most consequential artists of his time.

Colescott is perhaps best known for works made during the 1970s in which he reimagined iconic artworks to examine the absence of Black men and women as protagonists in dominant cultural and social narratives. Works like George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook (1975) offer irreverent parodies of familiar masterpieces, while incisively critiquing America’s often brutally discriminatory past and present. In its complex interplay of high art and vernacular traditions, his work has opened new possibilities for chronicling the history of America while ridiculing its grandiosity and biases.

This groundbreaking exhibition highlights Colescott’s legacy as a standard bearer for figuration in the 1970s, a forerunner of the appropriation strategies of the 1980s, an overlooked contributor to debates around identity politics in the 1990s, and a pioneer in addressing some of the most challenging issues in global culture today.

The New Museum has a long history with the artist, presenting the exhibition “Robert Colescott: A Retrospective” in 1989.

“Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott” is co-curated by Lowery Stokes Sims and Matthew Weseley. It is organized by the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati. The presentation at the New Museum is coordinated by Gary Carrion-Murayari, Kraus Family Curator.

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