Suggested narratives—some personal, others historical, some biblical—permeate the works in this exhibition. Implicit in many pieces are histories of Black lives and experiences in America. Instead of telling overt tales, the artists rely on our powers of association to communicate narrative possibilities.
Titles can provide a clue: Betye Saar’s Cage (In the Beginning) points to a history of slavery and captivity—physical and psychological—but the towering enclosure also alludes to earlier beginnings, evoking ancestral figures of power and strength that rise to the top. Martin Puryear’s sculpture Thicket conjures a hiding place as much as a tangle of histories. Denzil Hurley’s cluster of signs is rooted in legacies of abstraction, but it also grounds us in the street with suggestions of demonstrations and protests. In contrast, the stone sculptures of small animals and a human skull by James Washington Jr. seem deeply personal, emphasizing the vulnerability of living beings.
Image: Cage (In the Beginning), 2006, Betye Saar, American, b. 1926, mixed media assemblage, 42 x 14 1/2 x 12 1/4 in., Courtesy of Lisa Goodman and Josef Vascovitz.