Can centering the Black model in modernism change how we see art?


Columbia’s Wallach Art Gallery has recently presented a stunning new exhibition, “The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today.” The show grew out of exhibition curator Denise Murrell’s doctoral research at Columbia on Laure, a model for Manet and a member of the new free-Black community that emerged in Paris after the French abolition of territorial slavery in 1848.

Murrell, previously the Wallach Gallery’s Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Research Scholar and now an associate curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has assembled more than 100 works of art that trace the role of the Black model. The exhibition runs the gamut from works by Manet’s contemporaries and near-contemporaries to Henri Matisse’s portraits of Black dancers inspired by his time in Harlem jazz clubs in the 1930s. "Posing Modernity" places these portraits in conversation with the “New Negro” style created by Harlem Renaissance artists, and it culminates with works by contemporary artists such as Mickalene Thomas.

Throughout, the show places the changing representation of the Black female figure at the center of the story of the development of modernism, offering a new way of understanding this influential artistic movement. After closing on February 10 at the Wallach Gallery, the exhibition traveled to the Musée d'Orsay, where it appeared from March 26 to July 14, 2019 in an expanded version as “The Black Model, from Géricault to Matisse.” Learn more.

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