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Visualizing the Blues: Images of the American South

Opens February 6, 2004


The Blues. Few other words in the English language convey as many layers of meaning: you can have the Blues, play the Blues and listen to the Blues. Now, you can see the Blues and the way it inspired the work of many of the world's most influential photographers at the Grand Rapids Art Museum's newest exhibition, Visualizing the Blues: Images of the American South 1862 - 1999. (right C.C. Lockwood, American, born 1949, Flat Lake Sunset, cibachrome print, Collection of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, © C.C. Lockwood)

Organized and circulated by The Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee, the exhibition consists of over 100 photographic images spanning outwards from the Mississippi Delta region from the Civil War to the present. This so-called "Fertile Crescent of American Music" attracted important photographers from around the United States and the world. The exhibition explores the historical, cultural and visual foundations of Blues music through the eyes of over 50 photographers including Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lee Friedlander, Dorothea Lange and Edward Weston. (left: Jon McDonald, American, born 1946, Blind Willie's Blues, 2003, Collection of the Artist)

Mathew Brady's Civil War images distill four years of horror into single, haunting moments. Eudora Welty's images of Mississippi in the '30s and '40s offer a glimpse into the South's past as well as a vision of the conditions and traditions that have created Mississippi's future. Walker Evan's documentation of the South during the WPA era is a significant part of the reason he is remembered as one of the great photographers of the twentieth century. Contemporary photographers makes their mark in the exhibition with intriguing portraits and a number of emerging artists add their visual comments to the observations of their predecessors.

In conjunction with the Visualizing the Blues exhibition, there will be two concurrent exhibitions by contemporary African American artists. In response to his fascination with the Blues, West Michigan artist Jon McDonald recently traveled throughout the United States, painting scenes inspired by this uniquely American art form. He visited Blues bars, Blues festivals and the traditional "juke joints" of the American South, investigating the culture that surrounds the Blues. The result of his travels is the exhibition Jon McDonald: The Blues, a series of thirty watercolor paintings that include quiet, formal portraits of Blues artists, casual barside jam sessions, and highly energetic, almost cacophonous depictions of Blues performances in which the music seems to jump from the paintings' surface. (right: Steven Prince, American, Faith Posture, 2003, 3x7 feet, pencil/graphite, Collection of the artist)

In his most recent series of prints, Urban Epistles, Steven Prince retranslates the thirteen epistles of the apostle Paul in the Bible to create a contemporary investigation into issues of faith, race and the challenges faced by urban society. He created the series of large-scale linoleum prints after completing research on the thirteen epistles, then recontextualized the stories within a modern, American framework. In his words, the work "calls the audience to acknowledge its role within the fabric of the American family and to redress race, representation, and education with new raiment woven of respect, truth, and equality."

Visualizing the Blues runs February 6 - May 16, 2004.

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