Charles White at The University of Texas at Austin

Charles White at The University of Texas at Austin

Art Galleries at Black Studies at The University of Texas at Austin

Charles White, Sound of Silence II, 1978. © The Charles White Archives. Gift of Susan G. and Edmund W. Gordon to the units of Black Studies and the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin. 

September 26, 2019
Charles White at The University of Texas at Austin
Talk: October 8, 6:30pm, Deborah Roberts and Robert A. Pruitt moderated by Dr. Cherise Smith.
Location: Blanton Museum of Art, Austin
The University of Texas at Austin
2301 San Jacinto Blvd
Austin, Texas 78712
United States

Two campus exhibitions celebrate Charles White’s practice and legacy

The Art Galleries at Black Studies (AGBS) and The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin present two exhibitions featuring works by Charles White. In 2014, Drs. Susan G. and Edmund W. Gordon gifted their collection of White’s works to the university; the collection is stewarded by the units of Black Studies and the Blanton. The Gordons’ gifts and select acquisitions make UT home to one of the most significant collections of works by Charles White, with 23 drawings and prints, as well as a rare large-scale painting. 

The AGBS exhibition Charles White and the Legacy of the Figure: Celebrating the Gordon Gift is on view at the Christian-Green Gallery until November 30, 2019, and the Blanton’s exhibition Charles White: Celebrating the Gordon Gift is on view until December 1, 2019. 

Charles White and the Legacy of the Figure at the Christian-Green Gallery considers the long shadow cast by White on the art world, in particular how younger generations of artists have engaged the tradition of portraying the human body that he championed. As seen in his Homage to Sterling Brown (1972) and Harriet (1972), White committed his prodigious talents mainly to representing African Americans and everyday African American culture in a realistic style. 

The show focuses on key visual themes that emerge from White’s art. Deborah Roberts’s Stinney (Nessum Dorma) (2019), for instance, contemplates how treacherous childhood can be for African Americans while Elizabeth Catlett’s “For the boys and girls who grew up in spite of these things…” (1992) glories in the innocence of the Black child in the face of challenges. John Biggers’ Study #2A (1965), Robert Pruitt’s Pimp and Circumstance (2004), and Henry Taylor’s Take Out (2006) demonstrate the artists’ commitment to monumental figures, a trait they share with White. In works by Kara Walker, Belkis Ayón, and his former student Kerry James Marshall, viewers will see an exploration of Black identity through the use of black materials. Charles White and the Legacy of the Figure examines how representing the human body allows artists to meditate on formal and political concerns. 

The Blanton’s exhibition foregrounds White’s connection to his contemporaries and his participation in larger sociopolitical movements in his life-long career as an artist, activist, and educator. In particular, the exhibition places White’s interest in the human figure in dialogue with Mexican modernists, including artists who worked out of the Taller de Gráfica Popular, where White visited and worked in 1947. Drawn from the Blanton’s renowned collection of Latin American art, works by Luis Arenal, Leopoldo Méndez, and David Alfaro Siqueiros illuminate the connections between White’s graphic depictions of powerful Black figures and Mexican political printmaking and drawing traditions. 

The exhibition is divided into three sections. The first section, “Social Realism,” includes works by White and other artists that exposed pressing socioeconomic issues of the 1930s and 1940s. A diverse group of artists including Harry Sternberg, Fletcher Martin, and John Biggers call attention to issues including discrimination, segregation, and struggles of the Black working class, with a special focus on the human form. Included in this section is White’s drawing Can A Negro Study Law in Texas (1946) that portrays Heman Sweatt, a plaintiff in the Supreme Court case to integrate the law school at The University of Texas at Austin, as a heroic, muscular figure. 

Highlighting White’s extraordinary ability to depict the human body, the second section focuses on “Heroic Figures.” White’s portraits of activists such as Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman as well as idealized Black women are displayed alongside works on paper by leading Mexican modernists involved in the anti-fascist movement. Also included in this section are several striking color lithographs from White’s later experimentations with color, including Love Letter III (1977) and Prophet II (1975). 

The last section, “Black Lives Matter,” frames White as an “advocate for Black history and social equality” according to exhibition co-curator and Susan G. and Edmund W. Gordon Family Fellow at the Blanton, Phillip A. Townsend. This section includes two large-scale drawings from White’s iconic Wanted Poster Series, based on runaway slave posters and advertisements for slave auctions. This section also includes eight album covers and one journal that were published with illustrations by White from the personal collection of Eddie Chambers, UT Professor of Art History. These items demonstrate White’s commitment to accessibility and the widespread reach of his empowering depictions of Black people throughout the 20th century. 

On October 8th, the Blanton Museum will be hosting a talk featuring Deborah Roberts and Robert A. Pruitt, moderated by Dr. Cherise Smith. This event is free to the public but pre-registration is recommended.

The exhibitions will be accompanied by a catalogue, including essays about UT’s 23 works by White; an interview with Dr. Edmund W. Gordon about his and his wife’s close friendship with White; and a section of tributes to White from those whose lives he touched. The Blanton’s exhibition is curated by Veronica Roberts, Blanton curator of modern & contemporary art, Carter E. Foster, Blanton deputy director for curatorial affairs, Phillip Townsend, Drs. Susan G. and Edmund W. Gordon Fellow in African American art at the Blanton, and Dr. Cherise Smith. The AGBS exhibition is curated by Dr. Cherise Smith, founding executive director of AGBS, Chair of African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS), and associate professor of AADS and Art History at UT.

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Art Galleries at Black Studies at The University of Texas at Austin
September 26, 2019

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