‘Figurative’ Changes in Black Art

During the Harlem Renaissance, dance halls, the front stoop, knitting circles and other realistic genre scenes dominated black art. Today, abstract works like Anna Arnold’s paintings of a white rock star or Michael Cummings’ wall hangings of Haitian boat people represent the variety of subject matter and approach in figurative black art.

With 27 paintings, drawings and sculpture by seven artists, “Emerging Artists: Figurative Abstraction” illustrates the change. The exhibition is at the California Afro-American Museum through Jan. 1.

“During the Harlem Renaissance, artists felt compelled and committed to drawing from the Afro-American culture, and everything they did was related to the Afro-American experience,” the show’s curator, Lizzetta La-Falle-Collins, said recently. “But today, while black artists are still committed to portraying that experience, everything doesn’t have to be influenced by one’s own culture.”

And while the figure is still a favorite point of departure, styles and materials used by contemporary black artists are more varied, the curator said. The range in “Emerging Artists” goes from Barbara Ward’s life-size fabric people to Laurence Hurst’s ethereal pastels. (The exhibit’s other artists are Syd Carpenter, Charles Dickson and John Rozelle.)


The less literal approach poses a challenge for artists and viewers, LaFalle-Collins added.

“The message isn’t as clear. Thus the artist is compelled to look further into his own conscience and really explore the image--not so much for the subject or content, but to really give a closer look at how the piece should be constructed, or what materials should be used.

Is the Grass Greener?

Many American supporters of the arts bemoan what they consider a shamefully low level of public funding. Wait until they compare their own government’s art funding with Sweden’s.


Direct governmental arts support in socialistic Sweden, a country roughly the size of California and with a population of 8 1/2 million, totals about $937 million annually. In the United States, where 235 million people live, public support slightly more than doubles that, coming to $2 billion, according to various Washington-based arts organizations. What that means is that although the United States has almost 30 times Sweden’s population, it spends only about twice as much public money on the arts.

Despite this proportional lead over the United States, many Swedish artists are not happy with their country’s public funding. There recently was a three-minute art strike held in support of greater outlays: Dancers froze in mid-step; radio stations went dead.

On the other side of the coin, U.S. private arts funding adds up to $6.4 billion. That’s billion.

Claes Jernaeus, press attache for the Swiss Council General in Los Angeles, said that some private money has been given to the arts in Sweden in the last five years, with Volvo, SAS and American Express leading the way.


Jernaeus had “no idea” how much these corporations have doled out, however, noting that there is no Swedish word for fund raising.

Konstnarslon exists, though. That, said the attache, is the word for a fellowship given to leading composers, opera singers, writers and other artists that lasts for their entire lives.

Art About Town

Los Angeles’ Hans Burkhardt and 42 of his paintings spanning 50 years seemed to be the main attraction at the recent La Brea/Beverly Art Galleries Assn. art walk.


As people poured into the Jack Rutberg Gallery, the Swiss-born 83-year-old chatted about the Abstract Expressionistic “Gardens Again” (1988). One of many anti-war statements, it is his most recent painting.

Drippy, black brush strokes symbolize war and patches of bright color are flowers, he explained. “It’s the end of the war. The gardens are blooming again.”

Going, Going, Gone

More than 300 vintage and contemporary photographs will be put on the block Saturday for the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies’ Third Annual Photography Auction.


Works in the 7 p.m. auction, at Krygier/Landau Gallery, 2114 Broadway, Santa Monica, may be previewed at the gallery Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 6 to 7 p.m. Tickets are $35 each, with food and drink included. Proceeds benefit the center. Information: (213) 482-3566.