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Avel de Knight (American, 1923–1995), The Rehearsal, 1955, oil on canvas, 33 x 45 in. © Estate of Avel de Knight. (Courtesy of PAM)
Portland Art Museum
Published: 07 June 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 post-racial society. 

Constructing Identity: Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African-American Art 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 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, to foster a more complete understanding. 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.

As part of a growing and more thoughtful dialogue about how art reflects the experiences of African Americans, Constructing Identity visually represents a cross-section of themes that speak to all of us in voices from communities of color in America.

“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.”

Founded in 2006, the Petrucci Family Foundation’s aims to support education and create opportunity for Americans at every stage of and station in life. Its collection of African-American art is a targeted initiative established to focus on, collect, conserve, and exhibit an inspiring range of works, thereby confirming African-American art’s essential place in the history and discourse of American art.

The collection celebrates the beauty, compassion, strength, and persistent will within the culture of African Americans. “We want to collect master works that define humanity, that show characters in their full, most authentic human moments,” Boothe says.


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