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MFA exhibits African American art
Expansive exhibition launches new season
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©Carrie Mae Weems
May Flowers (2001), Color coupler print by Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953) from Collection of the Bank of America
ST. PETERSBURG - Mixing Metaphors: The Aesthetic, the Social and the Political in African American Art from the Bank of America Collection is the largest exhibition of African American art ever presented at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.

More than 90 paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, sculptures, and mixed-media works by 36 accomplished artists will be on view from Saturday, Oct. 5 to Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014.

The works are provided by Bank of America’s Art in our Communities Program. MFA exhibitions are sponsored in part by The Stuart Society. The Tampa Bay Times is the Media Sponsor.

“Communities express timeless and binding ideas through art,” said MFA Director Kent Lydecker. “This exhibition offers insights about our national experience and the world, seen through the lens of contemporary artists of great significance. We are honored to present this compelling exhibition, drawn from an extraordinary collection and curated by one of our country’s distinguished scholars, Dr. Deborah Willis.”

Some of America’s most talented artists are represented, including Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, John Biggers, Sam Gilliam, Jacob Lawrence, Gordon Parks, Martin Puryear, Faith Ringgold, Lorna Simpson, and Carrie Mae Weems.

Willis will present the Wayne W. and Frances Knight Parrish Lecture, “Reading Art as a Metaphor,” at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6.

“Bank of America knows that not only do the arts create economic value in communities, but they also foster great learning, great thinking and connect us through shared culture and heritage,” said Bill Goede, Tampa Bay market president, Bank of America. “Through the Art in Our Communities program, we’re excited to bring the Mixing Metaphors exhibition to important cultural anchors like the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.”

Most of the works tell fascinating stories, exploring history, memories, and life today. They are visual metaphors. Jacob Lawrence’s two exceptional prints convey the spirit of the exhibition. His sweeping Forward Together (1997) is a clarion call, encouraging us all to move ahead, while Aspirations (1986) focuses on family life.

Family is viewed by many of these artists as a bedrock and refuge. Lawrence Finney portrays monumental figures protecting their children, and Faith Ringgold’s large-scale story quilt, Coming to Jones Road #3: Aunt Emmy (1999), conveys the centrality of home and family. It also pays tribute to African American quilts, which, in turn, look back to Africa. So, too, do the shotgun houses and figures in John Biggers’ The Four Seasons (1990), inspired by Houston’s Third Ward. Visitors can go from the exhibition in the Hazel Hough Wing to the MFA’s renovated gallery devoted entirely to African art in the original building.

The church has been a major force in African American life, captured brilliantly in Benny Andrews’ Rehearsal (Music Series), 1997. Indeed, music has been and continues to be paramount, with African Americans giving the world some of our most unique art forms—spirituals, the blues, and jazz. Chuck Stewart’s photographs of jazz legends are high points. On the abstract side are Kevin Cole’s lively Jam Session No. 3 (1992) and his mentor Sam Gilliam’s beautifully lyrical Rational Element (1992).

Photographers and TV cameramen brought the Civil Rights Movement into our homes, mobilizing action and change. Memphis-based Ernest C. Withers was called “the official photographer of the Civil Rights Movement.” Six images from his famous I Am A Man portfolio document pivotal moments in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggle as a whole. They are especially moving as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream’” speech.

Strength and perseverance permeate Lorna Simpson’s photogravures of hands, Henry Clay Anderson’s and Dawoud Bey’s images of everyday life, and Gordon Parks’ powerful photograph of a young Muhammad Ali (1970), an American icon. And who can resist Jamel Shabazz’s and Earlie Hudnall Jr.’s photographs of early hip-hop culture?

About Deborah Willis

Willis, who will speak at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, is one of the nation’s leading scholars of African-American art and culture and is a talented photographer in her own right. She is chair and professor of photography and imaging at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. In 2000, she was named a MacArthur Fellow, a recipient of what is known as “the genius grant.” She has also been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fletcher Fellow.

Widely published, Willis is the co-author of Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs, which received the 2010 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, Biography/Autobiography, and Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery. Other recent books are Out [o] Fashion Photography: Embracing Beauty, Black Venus 2010: They Called Her “Hottentot,” and Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present. Selected books are available in the museum store.

Willis has curated many exhibitions, including Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits, Imagining Families - Images and Voices and Reflections in Black, and Engulfed by Katrina: Photographs Before and After the Storm. Her photography has been shown across the country. She holds a BFA from the Philadelphia College of Art, an MA from The City University of New York, an MFA from the Pratt Institute, and a PhD from George Mason University.

The Parrishes donated many of the Museum’s ancient American objects, which are displayed in a gallery named in their honor. Mr. Parrish was a successful publisher of aviation magazines, and Mrs. Parrish, a noted public servant, was Director of the U.S. Passport Office from 1955-1977.

Educational programs

Monday Art Bites, second Monday of the month, 1 p.m., free with MFA admission.

Sample MFA treasures in these 30-minute talks. Then stay for the 2 p.m. docent tour to explore more of the collection. On your way out, visit the MFA store for a free edible sample of Margaret Ann’s Gourmet Cookies. This bite-size snack is available for Art Bite guests only.

• Oct. 14: Director Kent Lydecker on a work from Mixing Metaphors.

• Nov. 11: Dr. Susan Cooksey, curator of African Art at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, the University of Florida, on selections from the MFA’s African collection.

• Dec. 9: Bob Devin Jones, artistic director of the Studio@620, on art in Mixing Metaphors.

Coffee Talks with Nan Colton, second Wednesday of the month, free with MFA admission.

The Museum’s performing artist-in-residence always plays to a full house. Enjoy refreshments at 10 a.m., Ms. Colton’s performance at 10:30, and a general docent tour at 11:15.

• Oct. 9: “Mixed Metaphors – Memories of Growing up in South Africa”

• Nov. 13: “Visually Exploring the Story – Jacob Lawrence and the Harriet Tubman Series”

MFA: Make and Take Saturday, third Saturday of the month, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. For ages five and older. Free with MFA admission. No registration necessary.

Create your own masterpiece inspired by works in the collection and special exhibitions. Supplies are included. Both children and adults are welcome.

• Oct. 19: Quilt Squares - View Faith Ringgold’s story quilt, Coming to Jones Road #3: Aunt Emmy (1999), in Mixing Metaphors and then create your own square without using needle and thread.

• Nov. 16: Memorable Bowls - Be inspired by the masterful ceramics of Maria and Julian Martinez as you make your own pinch pot. In partnership with the Morean Arts Center for Clay.

• Dec. 21: Going Crafty with Collage - Mixed-media works and collages in the collection and special exhibitions will lead to your next masterpiece.

UNCHartED: Random Acts of Culture, Thursday evenings, wine/beer cash bar, delectable bites

• Oct. 24, 6-8 p.m. YOLELE! Cooking Demonstration and Book-Signing by Pierre Thiam. Three courses and a souvenir recipe card of the dishes prepared. $35 members, $45 nonmembers. Reservations required by Friday, Oct. 18. Call 727-896-2667, ext. 210, for more details.

Chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author Pierre Thiam grew up in Dakar, Senegal, and moved to New York in the late 1980s. By 2001, he had opened his first restaurant, Yolele, a visionary African bistro in Brooklyn.

His Le Grand-Dakar Restaurant opened just three years later in neighboring Clinton Hill. He currently owns Pierre Thiam Catering and serves as a consulting chef for restaurants in New York City and beyond. His cookbook, Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal, was a finalist for the Julia Child Cookbook Award and won the Gourmand World Cookbook’s Special Jury Award at the Paris World Cookbook Fair.

Thiam lectures and conducts cooking classes around the globe and has appeared on the Food Network, including Iron Chef; ABC's Eyewitness News; and NBC's Today Show. He has been profiled on CNN’s Inside Africa and interviewed on NPR’s Splendid Table.

About MFA

The MFA at 255 Beach Drive N.E. has a world-class collection, with works by Monet, Gauguin, Renoir, Morisot, Cézanne, Rodin, O’Keeffe, and many others. Also displayed are ancient Greek and Roman, Egyptian, Asian, African, pre-Columbian, and Native American art.

The photography collection is one of the largest and most significant in the Southeast. The galleries, The Junior League Great Hall, and the Marly Room in the original building have just been renovated, completely transforming the experience of the art on view. The new MFA was unveiled Sept. 28, on Arts Alive Day.

The Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, until 8 p.m. on Thursday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Admission is only “5 after 5” on Thursday. Regular admission is $17 for adults, $15 for those 65 and older, and $10 for students seven and older, including college students with current I.D. Children under age 7 and Museum members are admitted free. Groups of 10 or more adults pay only $12 per person and children $4 each with prior reservations.

The MFA Café is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

For more information, please call 727-896-2667 or visit the website at www.f­ine-a­rts.o­rg. For café reservations, call 727-822-1032.
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