It isn’t often that we are able to trace an artist’s entire stylistic journey in one room, yet the UMMA’s newest exhibit allows us to do just that. Though I was familiar with Bearden as an artist, like many others, this was solely through his collages that highlighted African American culture. The expansive room was set up perfectly, allowing me to wander through Bearden’s art in a chronological manner.
The exhibit begins with displaying the artist’s earliest works that experiment with watercolors and Cubism as Bearden was undergoing artistic training. The next phase of Bearden’s work is demonstrated by a small collection of untitled collages that created a shift in Bearden’s methods as he combined new and old techniques. The following period of abstract oil paintings makes up the majority of the exhibit. The curators of the exhibit did a wonderful job in explaining the how factors in Bearden’s life, such as his relationships, interests, and locations, affected his stylistic development. My personal favorite in this collection of abstractions was “Mountain of Heaven”, painted by Bearden in 1961. The experimentation in media is especially prevalent here, as he incorporates oil paint in a wholly unexpected way that creates a dramatic texture and suggests movement. The more natural shape of the oil paint is juxtaposed by the heavy blocks of color that make up the outer edges of the painting, resulting in a stunning effect.
The exhibition, though focused on promoting Bearden’s more unknown works, ends with displaying several of his famed collages. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the works that Bearden was known for, yet I had a greater appreciation of them after viewing his journey as an artist. Though he worked with new techniques, it is easy to see how Bearden’s earlier interest in bold colors and shapes shines through his later work. The exhibit was executed fantastically, allowing the viewer to view firsthand the transitions of Bearden’s work and the way that his own work inspires innovation. The exhibit is open until May 15, 2022.