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BILL TRAYLOR, WILLIAM EDMONSON, AND THE MODERNIST IMPULSE AT THE STUDIO MUSEUM IN HARLEM

 

NEW YORK, 3 May 2005—A visit to Harlem always reveals something new about American culture. Currently on view at The Studio Museum in Harlem, is a noteworthy exhibition devoted to the works of two major figures in American and African-American art history: Bill Traylor (1854 – 1949), a draftsman from Alabama, and William Edmondson (1874 – 1951), a sculptor from Tennessee. 
 
Entitled Bill Traylor, William Edmondson, and the Modernist Impulse, this  is the first exhibition to not only present the work of both artists in the context of their own communities, but also to argue the strong aesthetic connections between their works and the modernist works of the established or "official" avant-garde of the the first half of the twentieth century in Europe and America. After decades of little interest in their work, each of the artists has now achieved near-mythic status, yet it is often forgotten that both artists were among the first self-taught African-Americans to gain early recognition from the official art world.
 


Bill Traylor:  Female Drinker
circa 1939-1942
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Photo courtesy of The Studio Museum in Harlem

Bill Traylor was born a slave in 1854, and worked as a cotton laborer throughout much of his life. At the age of 83 while living on the sidewalk in downtown Montgomery, Alabama he picked up a pencil and began to draw. When he died ten years later he had created over 1500 works of art that not only pulse with the musical energy of the blues, but also reflect on the economic depression and race relations in Alabama during the 1930s and 1940s. 
 
William Edmondson was born in 1874 and lived most of his life as a handyman in Nashville, Tennessee. By the 1930s, his religious conversion compelled him to gather discarded stones and create simple, but powerful tombstones. He died in 1951, leaving behind a body of work full of strongly abstract forms and divine inspiration.


 William Edmondson: Angel
c. 193--1942
Private Collection
Photo courtesy of The Studio Museum in Harlem

In 1937, Edmondson was the first African-American to be exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Traylor’s work was first shown in New York in 1941.  Their work was shown together for the first time in the landmark exhibition Black Folk Art in America, 1930 – 1980 at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 1982. 
                                                           
The current exibition includes approximately fifty drawings and paintings by Traylor and twenty-five sculptures by Edmonson, as well as photographs of the artists taken by their contemporaries, gathered from private collections and museums across the United States. 
 
Bill Traylor, William Edmondson, and the Modernist Impulse is on view through 3 July 2005 and then travels to The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas from 22 July until 2 October 2005.


The Studio Museum in Harlem
144 West 125th Street
New York, NY
Tel: (1) 212 864 4500
Web Site: www.studiomuseum.org



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