Benny Andrews on view at MoMA

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Upon my ascension to the 4th floor wing of the Museum of Modern Art, I was immediately struck by the striking form of a large Benny Andrews collage hanging in the lobby. The work “No More Games” (1970) which was created around the time the Rhino Horn Group was formed, is a collage inspired by the social turmoil of the Civil Rights movement at home and the Vietnam War abroad. The large scale collage was purchased by the museum in 1971 through the Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Fund. Rockefeller was a heavily involved and influential figure within MoMA and served twice as the museum’s director. The work of Bob Thompson has also appeared in this very spot on occasion (coincidentally?).

While I’m more than happy to see this work on view at MoMA, its seclusion from the rest of the “Painting and Sculpture II” wing is troubling. It doesn’t help to establish or suggest the major role that Andrews (and Thompson) had on the continuation of figurative art that presented an alternative to the Abstract Expressionism and Proto-Pop art that is a staple of the 1950s/60s rooms. Andrews and Thompson were part of a group of seminal artists during the Second Generation of Abstract Expressionism who returned to representational imagery. Both were also important for addressing the transforming social environment in their work. Aside from his studio practice, Andrews was significant for his activism which interrogated the ways in which institutions and the art world presented and displayed the work of non-white artists. It is therefore even more curious and unfortunate that this display of his work divorces it from its social and aesthetic context. There has been a notable lack of African American artists’ works on display in many major museums and galleries. In what I believe/hope will be a sign of good things to come, MoMA recently hired art historian Darby English to provide consultation and contextualization on their collection of African American art. I was happy to see the work of Sam Gilliam included in a section of late 60s and 70s abstract painters on the 4th floor. Perhaps there will soon be a day when artists like Andrews, Thompson, Emilio Cruz, Earle M. Pilgrim, Norman Lewis, Merton Simpson, Edward Clarke, et al., will be at the forefront the dialog of essential artists during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, and art of the 1950s onward.

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