Criticism | JMU ‘Exuberance’ exhibition brings African-American abstraction to the fore | Culture

The definition of exuberance is “the quality of being full of energy, excitement and cheerfulness” according to Languages ​​of Oxford. Living up to such a cheerful word might seem difficult, but JMU’s latest exhibition from Duke Hall Gallery of Fine Art, “Exuberance: Dialogues in African-American Abstract Painting,” does it brilliantly.

Open from Oct. 26 to Dec. 10 and co-organized by JMU faculty members Beth Hinderliter and Susan Zurbrigg, the exhibition “celebrates African-American painters and challenges common mentalities”, according to his web page.

A powerful lens

Featuring several generations of African-American painters ranging from the mid-20th century to the present day, celebrating these artists who are often overlooked in mainstream art history is at the heart of the gallery’s message, said Hinderliter, the director of the gallery.

“We wanted to think about how this has been a struggle for many African American artists who felt pressure over how the African American experience might be represented,” Hinderliter said.

Hinderliter also noted that although more scholarship around African-American artists has emerged, the exhibition represents a race against time. Referring to the death of Benjamin Wigfall (1930-2017) – an artist featured in the exhibit – as an example, she said it was crucial to document their contributions and legacy.

“[The exhibit isn’t meant to] bring to the fore the many obstacles these artists faced, but rather celebrate their successes and create new moments of exchange and recognition for these artists, ”said Hinderliter.

With 11 different artists and more than double that number of paintings, the gallery sticks to its message, skillfully showcasing a variety of styles and genres within African-American abstractionism. A highlight is “Corrosion and Blue,” completed in 1957 by Benjamin Wigfall, which has varying shades of brown with layered streaks of vivid cobalt blue that seem to reach the viewer.


In addition to being the co-curator of the exhibition, Zurbrigg, associate dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, is a featured artist. Reflecting on his upbringing on the South Side of Chicago, Zurbrigg said, “I knew I wanted to study painting.

With the city at hand, Zurbrigg explained how she got involved in exploring the city’s various artistic scenes.

One of his paintings, “South Side in Mood Boots”, completed in 2021, was inspired by “the pride I had in how the moon boots that I grew up would have this colorful graphic quality,” Zurbrigg noted. Done in oil on canvas, a shiny magnetic pink serves as a backdrop while swirls of lighter colors adorn the canvas, only to be interrupted by a dark black mark.

Zurbrigg explained the importance of leading style techniques such as layering, depth and liminal space in letting his pieces resonate with connotations of time – like the past, present and future.

“As a biracial African-American artist, there are often these kinds of liminal spaces, these places that sort of fall between what society wants to create, fixed boxes and my own kind of navigating through them. “said Zurbrigg.

Speaking of the extent of abstraction, Zurbrigg discussed how certain aspects of the imagery of representations can be distilled through factors such as color arrangement or rhythmic movement. There may also be elements of reference within the abstraction, which move between different artists and artistic movements.

Across the generations, Hinderliter said some of the artists on the show have been influenced by “jazz rhythms and how they saw those rhythms transformed into fashions of painting” unlike younger artists who might be more inspired by them. hip hop rhythms.

Generational exchange

Although the exhibit ends on December 10, Zurbrigg said she was thrilled with the way the exhibit was received in the community. Last week, she said, a group of about 400 eighth-graders from Harrisonburg City and Rockingham County schools attended the gallery through a collaboration between the Any Given Child program, an initiative of “Artistic education” according to Kennedy Center website and the JMU Arts Education Program.

The exhibition also featured lectures by its artists, including one by Lisa Corrinne Davis. Senior gallery intern Emma Seely said she admires Davis’s work.

“It’s interesting how she puts the identity into the abstract work because it can be taken in so many different lights, but the way she does it was very interesting,” Seely said. “I think it is very important that it is exclusively for [African American painters]. ”

Zurbrigg said his favorite part of the show is sharing his work with audiences and inspiring others.

“You almost create this other new art installation itself,” said Zurbrigg. “[It] sort of generates energy, conversations and interactions throughout the room.

Contact Alexander Weisman at [email protected] To learn more about the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture office on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.

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