The Norton Museum of Art invites you to celebrate Black History Month with Spotlight: Recent Acquisitions. The showcase, which runs Feb. 2 — Mar. 5, celebrates living black artists that became part of the Norton’s collection during the past year. Works on view include Super Blue Omo, a new painting by Akunyili Crosby; a series of photographs and a sculpture by Willie Cole; and a major painting by Mickalene Thomas, Naomi Looking Forward # 2, 2016. As if that weren’t enough, Cole will discuss his work during a public presentation at the Norton at 3 p.m. on Feb. 12, 2017. Just a reminder that the museum is undergoing renovations and is free to the public through 2018. In other words, drag your kids… drag your wives.
Ideas about feminine beauty and, especially black beauty, and the subjugation of women are considered by Mickalene Thomas in her photographs and collaged reliefs on wood. Using oil and acrylic paint, enamel, silkscreen, and collaged elements, it was her bold incorporation of brilliant, sparkling rhinestones which became a signature element. Yet, concentrating on this “bling” factor ignores Thomas’ rigorous exploration of the fractured space of modernism and a commentary on the economic status suggested by the selection of interior design elements. The artificial and real are in play throughout Naomi Looking Forward #2, which features a beautiful black woman, supermodel Naomi Campbell, lounging across the entire work. She is in the pose of an odalisque made familiar in the renderings of elongated, female nudes by the early 19th-century French artist, Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres. Thomas pays homage to Ingres by superimposing a photo detail suggesting the Turkish origin of the odalisque for her figure’s legs strewn across a sofa that morphs from comfy to an angular, modernist design.
Distinct to her practice is the laborious process of transferring photographs to animate passages of her paintings. Taken primarily from family photographs and Nigerian pop culture reproduced in magazines and online, she uses images of Nigerian stars, government officials, historical ceremonies, and contemporary cultural figures in a patchwork, dotted with images from her own family history. Super Blue Omo reveals the latest challenge set up by the artist, a composition with a solitary figure, which references the artist’s sister. Larger than life, the figure quietly confronts the viewer while anticipating a visitor for tea, evident by the nearby kettle and two cups (decorated with the artist’s wedding photo.) While the artist’s choice of Super Blue Omo references a popular detergent brand in Nigeria – “omo” is also an affectionate, vernacular term for child or a sudden surprise, perhaps visualized in this composition as the anxious moments before the beginning of a reunion.
American-born artist Willie Cole is perhaps best known for using domestic implements, especially bicycles and old steam irons in his work. He was first recognized in the mid-1980s for creating two dimensional works that were the result of scorching fabric or ironing board pads, with an imprint burned by the iron. The result: patterns that were both abstract and symbolic, suggesting the domestic servitude by many African Americans and the scarring of black bodies, whether as signs of beauty or the result of physical punishment. In works such as American Beauty, from 1989, Cole evokes the appearance of a traditional African sculpture suggesting not only its inspiration to the development of Cubism and such modern artists as Picasso and Braque, but also the previously exclusive definition of American beauty – blonde, white-skinned females.