September 2, 2011, marked the centennial of the birth of Romare Bearden (1911–1988) and the beginning of a year-long celebration of this significant and singular artist. In tribute to Bearden, who was deeply involved with the founding of The Studio Museum in Harlem, and whose artwork is a cornerstone of our collection, the Studio Museum has initiated The Bearden Project.

The Bearden Project brings together work by contemporary artists who have all been influenced by this twentieth-century master. Bearden was born in North Carolina and then spent much of his life in New York—Harlem in particular. Some of the artists in the exhibition, a sampling of the generations he affected, knew him personally. Others attended lectures and talks given by him when they were young artists just beginning their careers, and still others never met him in person, but flocked to exhibitions featuring his artworks when they were students. For many of the younger artists in this exhibition, Bearden was one of the first black artists they ever encountered.

The artists in The Bearden Project work in a wide range of media and are at different stages in their careers, but each was given the task of creating a work of art inspired by Bearden’s life and legacy. The artists mined a wide range of ideas and themes associated with Bearden’s career, including Modernism, urbanism, jazz and, of course, the medium of collage. The majority chose to make new works for the exhibition, while others submitted earlier works that honor or were inspired by Bearden. For those who created collages, the medium is interpreted in a variety of ways: traditional pasted paper collages, three-dimensional works, or works that play with the limits of the medium.

The variety is a fitting tribute to Bearden, whose own collage style was multifaceted and varied, like his career. While their contributions are distinct and diverse, the artists in this exhibition are united in building a lasting tribute to Romare Bearden.

In the spirit of Bearden’s ongoing impact on the art world, The Bearden Project will continue to grow. The first exhibition of Bearden Project works took place during the Studio Museum’s Fall/Winter 2012 season, and a second selection was on view as part of the Spring 2012 exhibition Shift: Projects | Perspectives | Directions. The third and final group of works from the project will be on view at the Museum August 16 to October 21, 2012.

thebeardenproject.studiomuseum.org mirrors this dynamism. The site will be frequently updated with new participating artists, sharing their story of inspiration and a high-resolution image of their artwork. We hope you’ll share your own artwork, stories, and comments with us by email.

The Bearden Project was organized by Assistant Curator Lauren Haynes. For more information about the Romare Bearden centennial celebration, please visit www.beardencentennial.org.

The Studio Museum in Harlem’s exhibitions are supported with public funds from the following government agencies and elected representatives: The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency; The City of New York; and Council Member Inez E. Dickens, 9th Council District, Speaker Christine Quinn and the New York City Council. Additional funding is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Artwork photography by Marc Bernier and all works courtesy the artist unless otherwise noted

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