Tag: Richard J. Powell


Motley: A Full-Blown Expressionist

We landed the cover of INDYweek, thanks to a thoughtful and nuanced review by Chris Vitiello.

IndyWeek Motley Cover Full

The cover image is a detail of Motley’s irresistable 1961 oil painting, “Hot Rhythm”. The play on words is fun, too; a few smartphones around here auto-correct the artist’s name to heavy metal rock band Mötley Crue.

We always appreciate Vitiello’s bright eyes on our exhibitions.

“Instead of telling the story of an artist’s development,” Vitiello writes, “the show presents Motley as a major American Expressionist painter.” He goes on to point out how this exhibition, which originated at the Nasher Museum, seeks to restore Motley to the annals of art history. “In this, it answers a big question: Why isn’t Archibald Motley better known?” Vitiello writes.  “How come museum gift shops stock Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden calendars but not Motley ones? His Jazz Age scenes of raucous nightclubs are Harlem Renaissance slideshow standards, but his name remains outside the mainstream that Lawrence and Bearden inhabit. While the other painters are wonderful stylists, Motley is a full-blown Expressionist.”

“After its Nasher debut, Archibald Motley continues on to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Cultural Center and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York,” Vitiello writes. “After that, Motley will likely be known as a great American Expressionist whose critical vision reveals more about race in the 20th century than almost any other artist of his time. Maybe he’ll finally get that kitchen-wall calendar after all.”

We also enjoyed how Vitiello considered the Motley exhibition alongside N.C. State’s Gregg Museum’s presentation of Phyllis Galembo’s large-format photographs of West African ceremonial and tribal costuming.

IMAGE: Cover of INDYweek, February 12, 2014.  Archibald J. Motley Jr., Hot Rhythm, 1961. Oil on canvas, 40 x 48.375 inches (101.6 x 122.9 cm). Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne. Image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois. © Valerie Gerrard Browne.


Sweet Walls

They talked about Sweet Tarts, the childhood candy. They talked about Easter pastels.
In the end, guest curator Richard J. Powell and chief preparator Brad Johnson, in consultation with other museum staff, selected eight pastel colors for the walls of Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist.
White walls would not have been the right choice to enhance the vibrant, unexpected colors on Motley’s canvases. White walls would have “pulled something away” from the works, Brad said. “It definitely needed some color.”



TOP: Chief Preparator Brad Johnson considers a dizzying choice of colors in a Pantone book. MIDDLE: Gallery view of pastel-colored walls, with Archibald J. Motley Jr.’s Mending Socks, 1924, in foreground.Collection of the Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Burton Emmett Collection, 58.1.2801. © Valerie Gerrard Browne. In background, Archibald J. Motley Jr.’s Brown Girl After the Bath, 1931. Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio. Gift of an anonymous donor, 2007.015. © Valerie Gerrard Browne. Photos by Wendy Hower.


Looking for Archibald Motley: The Art Institute

The great American modernist painter lived and worked here in the first half of the 20th century. What inspired Motley? How did he leave his mark? We wanted to get to know Motley better, in anticipation of the first solo exhibition of his work in 20 years, Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist, opening January 30 at the Nasher Museum.First stop: the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world’s most beautiful art museums. Here, Motley graduated in 1918, a rare education for an African American artist at that time. Two major Motley paintings are on view–his 1929 scene of a Paris night club, Blues, and his Self Portrait of 1920.We experienced the one-two punch of seeing the works of this master colorist in person and learning about them from Richard J. Powell, John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University, who is organizing the Motley exhibition at the Nasher Museum, and Chicago-based artist Dawoud Bey.Bey and Powell’s words on the subject will be part of a forthcoming video. But they both agree: You need to see Motley’s paintings in person, and his colors (on multiple levels) will stay with you.Dawoud Bey and Richard J. Powell
Motley’s Chicago has changed so much. He died in 1981, almost 30 years before the opening of the Art Institute’s grand new Modern Wing, designed by architect Renzo Piano. A glittering 625-foot pedestrian bridge soars from the Modern Wing, across Monroe Street and over to Millennium Park. We were dazzled by Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, known as “the bean,” a highly polished stainless steel sculpture that reflected ourselves and the shimmering Chicago skyline.
But the “bones” of the Chicago that Motley knew are still there.

Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate

TOP: Richard J. Powell (left) , John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University, visits the Art Institute with Chicago-based artist Dawoud Bey. MIDDLE: Bey and Powell (right) talk about Archibald Motley’s 1929 painting Blues and his 1920 Self Portrait. ABOVE: Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate reflects the city back to itself in Millennium Park.