WILLIAMSTOWN -- On view from July 20 to Dec. 1, "Now Dig This!" chronicles the vital legacy of the African American arts community in Los Angeles, examining a pioneering group of black artists whose work and connections with other artists helped shape the creative output of Southern California.
The exhibition of 130 works by 33 artists active during this historical period explores the rising strength of the black community in Los Angeles as well as the increasing political, social and economic power of African Americans across the nation. The exhibition offers a broader view of the changing art landscape during an important era of artistic and cultural foment, as artists shifted from more traditional formats such as painting and works on paper to modes such as assemblage, Finish Fetish (a West Coast style of minimalism), post-minimalism, conceptualism and performance.
Artists featured in the exhibition include Melvin Edwards, Fred Eversley, David Hammons, Maren Hassinger, Senga Nengudi, John Outterbridge, Alonzo Davis, Dale Brockman Davis, Noah Purifoy, Betye Saar and Charles White.
"Now Dig This!" is organized by the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and was presented there in 2011-12 as part of "Pacific Standard Time," a collaboration of more than sixty cultural institutions across southern California.
"The artists that have been included in ‘Now Dig This!’ represent a vibrant group whose work is critical to a more complete and dynamic understanding of twentieth-century American art. Their influence goes beyond their immediate creative circles and their legacy is something we are only now beginning to fully understand," said Jones.
"We are thrilled to bring ‘Now Dig This!’ to the region," said Christina Olsen, Class of ‘56 Director of the Williams College Museum of Art. "It offers an incredibly rich and vital canvas for the faculty and students interested in contemporary art, music, and dance, civil rights movement and more to explore and learn."
The exhibition is organized into several framing categories, including:
"Front Runners": Melvin Edwards, William Pajaud, Betye Saar and Charles White.
By the early 1960s the West Coast had become highly visible among the international arts community. African American artists such as Betye Saar and Mel Edwards made some of their earliest important works at this time. Charles White, a veteran social realist from Chicago, arrived in Los Angeles from New York in 1956, energizing the black art community and inspiring many young artists who studied under him at Otis Art Institute.
"Assembling": Daniel Larue Johnson, John Outterbridge, Noah Purifoy, John Riddle and Betye Saar.
The Watts Rebellion of 1965 was the largest urban riot at that time in U.S. history and had a profound effect on this community of artists.
Many began to approach their craft and materials differently, and assemblage emerged as an important artistic strategy. Noah Purifoy and John T. Riddle, for example, made assemblage works from the detritus of the Watts Rebellion, creating formally impressive pieces that were also highly charged politically. Purifoy claimed that it was the rebellion that made him a real artist.
A 350-page full-color catalogue accompanies the exhibition, co-published by Delmonico/Prestel and the Hammer Museum. The publication includes reproductions of works included in the exhibition supplemented by scholarly essays, a comprehensive bibliography and reproductions of archival materials, including posters, invitations, documentary photographs and other items recently uncovered.
Free public programs and performances will accompany the exhibition:
* On opening day Saturday, July 20 at 2 p.m. get a first glimpse of "Now Dig This!" with Kellie Jones, exhibition curator and associate professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University.
*"The Actors Intervene" Thursday, July 25 and Aug. 8 at 4 p.m. See what happens when Williamstown Theatre Festival actors mine "Now Dig This!" for inspiration and animate the galleries with an artful performance.
The Williams College Museum of Art is located on Main Street. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. From July 20 through Labor Day the museum will be open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is wheelchair accessible and open to the public. Admission is free. For more information: 413-597-2429, wcma.williams.edu.