Conversations: Romare Bearden and Richard Hunt
Conversations explores parallels in the work of contemporaries Romare Bearden and Richard Hunt, both of whom are considered masters in their respective mediums. One of America’s foremost modernists, Bearden is celebrated for his groundbreaking use of collage and vibrant portrayals of American life, depicting subjects that range from contemporary urban scenes to nostalgic recollections of the rural South. Bearden was especially drawn to the improvisational medium of collage, as this technique allowed him to structure distinctive compositions based on modernist principles, such as fragmentation, flattened space, and the merging of past and present.
Like Bearden, Hunt’s approach to art-making utilizes a similar montage or assemblage aesthetic, one that embraces the complexities of figuration and abstraction. Hunt is widely regarded as one of the greatest living American sculptors, holding the distinction of earning more public art commissions than any other artist in the country. Best known for his abstract metal sculptures, Hunt shares a common thread of history with Bearden. In 1971, both Hunt and Bearden shared the prestigious honor of being the first African American artists to receive major solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Both artists’ exhibitions ran concurrently, the work united by their similar artistic concerns.
Though Hunt was born in Chicago in 1935—a generation younger than Bearden—they share not only an artistic lineage, but a common personal history as well. Both Bearden and Hunt were raised in families that had participated in the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to other areas of the country, in search of better opportunities and brighter futures. Bearden was born in Charlotte, N.C., and held fast to family connections there throughout his life. When he was a child his family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before settling in New York City’s Harlem. Hunt’s parents also moved from the rural South to what is known as Chicago’s Black Belt. Both families instilled in their sons values of culture, education, achievement, and personal success. These teachings made a powerful impact on their inspired, prolific, and successful careers as artists.
On September 2, 2013, in conjunction with what would have been Bearden’s 102nd birthday, Romare Bearden Park, of the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department, opened just one block north of Mint Museum Uptown on North Church Street. Hunt was commissioned to create a monumental public sculpture in homage of Bearden. Due to the shared history between the two men, this commission stands out among the over 130 public commissions Hunt has completed throughout his career. Other commissions located nearby include Three Crosses at University Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, as well as public work in Greensboro, N.C.; Winton-Salem, N.C.; and Greenville, S.C. Of this monumental work of art, Hunt has stated: “I intend to create a sculptured collage, a spatial frame that contains references to Romare Beardenʼs artistic practice, his traditions, and his inspirations.”
In 1980, The Mint Museum organized the first nationally touring exhibition of Bearden’s work: Romare Bearden, 1970-1980. More recently, in 2011 the museum organized Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections, another nationally touring exhibition in celebration of the centennial of the artist’s birth. Today, his work is among the top artistic focus areas of The Mint Museum, which holds the largest repository of his art of any public art museum.