Archibald Motley

Jazz Age Modernist

Archibald Motley

Book Pages: 176 Illustrations: 140 color illustrations Published: February 2014

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Art and Visual Culture > Art History

Featuring more than 200 color illustrations, the catalogue Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist accompanies the first full-scale survey of the work of Archibald Motley, on view at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University from January 30, 2014, through May 11, 2014. Archibald John Motley, Jr., was an American painter, master colorist, and radical interpreter of urban culture. Among twentieth-century American artists, Motley is surely one of the most important and, paradoxically, also one of the most enigmatic. Born in New Orleans in 1891, Motley spent the first half of the twentieth century living and working in a predominately white neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, just blocks away from the city's burgeoning black community. During his formative years, Chicago's African American population increased dramatically, and he was both a witness to and a visual chronicler of that expansion. In 1929 he won a Guggenheim Fellowship, which funded a critical year of study in France, where he painted Blues and other memorable pictures of Paris. In the 1950s, Motley made several lengthy visits to Mexico, where his nephew, the well-known novelist Willard F. Motley, lived. While there, Motley created vivid depictions of Mexican life and landscapes. He died in Chicago in 1981.
Motley's brilliant yet idiosyncratic paintings—simultaneously expressionist and social realist—have captured worldwide attention with their rainbow-hued, syncopated compositions. The exhibition includes the artist's depictions of African American life in early-twentieth-century Chicago, as well as his portraits and archetypes, portrayals of African American life in Jazz Age Paris, and renderings of 1950s Mexico. The catalogue includes an essay by Richard J. Powell, organizer and curator of Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist, as well as contributions from other scholars examining the life, work, and legacy of one of twentieth-century America's most significant artists.
After debuting at the Nasher Museum of Art, the exhibition will travel to other museums across the country: the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; Chicago Cultural Center, Illinois; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Contributors: Davarian L. Baldwin, David C. Driskell, Olivier Meslay, Amy M. Mooney, Richard J. Powell, Ishmael Reed
Publication of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University


"This volume gives readers an Archibald Motley who is answerable to his own present. . . . supplemented with invaluable contextual materials. . . . Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers." — K. P. Buick, Choice

“Chicago, Paris, Mexico, the Jazz Age through the mid-century — it’s hard to imagine better fuel for Motley’s artistic energy. This exhibition and the accompanying catalogue offer a chance to slow down and contemplate these captures of African-American culture, with the contradictions in Motley’s work reflecting the complications of his own identity, as well as those of his subjects.” — Allison Meier, Hyperallergic

“Richard Powell in his key essay in the catalogue suggests that Motley’s omission from the narrative was partly geographic. Motley was rooted in Chicago, not New York. More substantively, however, in Powell’s trenchant formulation, ‘the transgressive vernacular’ of Motley’s account of the African American experience and his astonishing rainbow palette delayed proper recognition of his quality and significance. It is clear from the Whitney retrospective that what makes Motley such an exhilarating presence in modern American art is that concentration on African American life.” — Patrick McCaughey, TLS


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Richard J. Powell is the John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University. He teaches courses in American art, the arts of the African Diaspora, and contemporary visual studies, and writes extensively on topics ranging from primitivism to postmodernism. His books include African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights Movement, and Beyond (with Virginia Mecklenburg), Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture, and Black Art: A Cultural History. He was Editor-in-Chief of The Art Bulletin from 2007 until 2010.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / Sarah Schroth  viii
Curator's Acknowledgments / Richard J. Powell  xi
Sky Diving / Ishmael Reed  1
1. Face to Face with Archibald J. Motley Jr. / David C. Driskell  2
2. The Portraits of Archibald Motley and the Visualization of Black Modern Subjectivity / Amy M. Mooney  19
3. "Midnight was like day": Strolling trough Archibald Motley's Bronzeville / Davarian L. Baldwin
4. Motley's Paris: Missed Opportunities / Olivier Meslay  83
5. Becoming Motley, Becoming Modern / Richard J. Powell  109
Artist Chronology  149
Exhibition Checklist  157
Contributors  163
Selected Bibliography  165
Chronology Reproduction Credits  171
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-938989-37-0
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