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Nelson Stevens (American, born 1938), Spirit Sister, 2013.
Ian Gillingham, Press and Publications Manager, Portland Art Museum
Published: 25 January 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Art Museum is pleased to present "Constructing Identity: Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African American Art", opening January 28, 2017. In 21st century America, questions of race and identity are being explored as never before.

This exploration has prompted many artists of color to investigate what constitutes identity, community, and the idea of a so-called “postracial” society. "Constructing Identity" brings together paintings, sculpture, prints, and drawings by prominent contemporary African American artists along with a selection of historical works from the 1930s, 1940s, and the Civil Rights era.

Drawing from the Petrucci Family Foundation collection, "Constructing Identity" features works by more than 80 artists, including Henry Ossawa Tanner, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, Faith Ringgold, Radcliffe Bailey, Kara Walker, and Mickalene Thomas as well as John Biggers, Barbara Bullock, David Driskell, Joyce Scott, and Sonya Clark, among others.

The exhibition brings awareness to the contributions of artists of color, whose work is often historically underrepresented in museums and galleries, for the objective of fostering a more complete understanding of African American art. "Constructing Identity" includes works by 11 artists whose artwork is also held in the collection of the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., as well as Northwest artists such as Portland painter Arvie Smith (whose own exhibition at PAM has been extended through March 12).

As part of a growing and more thoughtful dialogue about the African American experience through art, "Constructing Identity" visually represents a cross-section of themes that speak not only to the African American community, but also to the broader American community.

"Historically and within African American communities, a central question is how do we best represent ourselves -- and how do these representations come together to form an ever-changing statement of identity?” asks Berrisford Boothe, curator for the Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African American Art. “We offer this art to present a more complete and informed view of African Americans as a people and reveal the dynamic nature, narratives and impulses that constitute our full humanity.”

"Constructing Identity" is accompanied by a catalog, a full-day symposium on February 11, and additional programs and community partnerships. For more information and updates, visit portlandartmuseum.org

Organized by Portland Art Museum and guest curated by Berrisford Boothe, Professor of Art at Lehigh University. Supported in part by The Boeing Company and the Exhibition Series Sponsors.



Constructing Identity: Conversations on African-American Art & Culture

Berrisford Boothe, guest curator of "Constructing Identity" and professor of art, Lehigh University

Barbara Bullock, artist; Marita Dingus, artist; Bill Hutson, artist; Lewis Tanner Moore, collector and art advocate; Arvie Smith, artist

February 11, 10 a.m. – noon, panel discussion 1 – 3 p.m., artist gallery talks

Join us for a two-part program exploring the past, present, and future of African-American Art. In the morning, Guest Curator Berrisford Boothe facilitates a wide-ranging conversation with an acclaimed group of African-American artists, scholars, and collectors who will reflect on the power of art making to shape how African Americans both see themselves and are seen by the world. In the afternoon, select exhibition artists will move to the "Constructing Identity" galleries where they will offer a closer look at their own work within the context of the larger show. Please visit the Museum website for a detailed schedule. Space will be limited for the gallery portion of the program, so advance tickets required. 


Almost Good Hair: Arvie Smith

Arvie Smith, artist

February 2 (date to change), 6 p.m.

For Arvie Smith, art offers freedom. Smith exposes racial slights, denigrations, and atrocities drawing from both his own lived experience as a Black man and the larger context of the history of race in the United States. He is a professor emeritus at Pacific Northwest College of Art. His work is in the collections of the City of Portland; Reginald Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture, Baltimore; The Estate of Nelson Mandela, South Africa; and Portland Art Museum, among others.


Morgan Parker & Friends Poetry Performance

Morgan Parker, poet

March 11, 2 p.m.

Join award-winning poet Morgan Parker and some of Portland’s best high school poets for a dynamic performance in the Constructing Identity galleries. In conversation with the exhibition, writers will share original work exploring race, gender, identity, and community. Parker was recently featured in Best American Poetry and is half of the performance duo The Other Black Girl Collective. She recently published the collection There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé. Organized in partnership with Tin House Books. 


The Incredible Journey of Jazz

April 30

PART I: 1 p.m. - Interactive History Program

PART II: 3 p.m. - Jazz of the 1930s & 40s Performance

Learn about the history of jazz, from its beginnings in Africa to its development in the United States and current role in global culture, through this special Museum edition of The Incredible Journey of Jazz. Developed and presented by PDX Jazz, this interactive program features a narrator and jazz ensemble who together demonstrate characterizations of historical figures and musical illustrations from different eras and styles to provide the audience with a living experience of jazz. The program will be followed by an all-star performance of classic jazz material from the 1930s and ’40s by African-American composers.


History of African-American Cinema Series

April and May

The Northwest Film Center will present a collaborative, retrospective series of films illuminating and exploring Black and African-American experience and identity. Mirroring the development and flowering of 20th- and 21st-century Black and African-American art practices, the history of this cinema is replete with innovative narrative forms, radical aesthetics, and a multiplicity of crucial testimonies.


In Conversation with Mickalene Thomas

Late Spring

Join us for a conversation with former Portlander and acclaimed multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker Mickalene Thomas. Best known for large-scale portraits, landscapes, and interiors that combine art-historical, political, and pop-cultural references, Thomas’ work often investigates complex notions of femininity, beauty, and racial representation. Her work is part of significant permanent collections including The Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Hammer Museum, among many others. 


Visit portlandartmuseum.org for confirmed date and event updates.



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