The Amon Carter Museum of American Art could wait no longer. It is currently showing through September 7 Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist, the first important look-back in at least 20 years of the irrefutable artistic talent of Archibald Motley. Though Motley’s paintings have carried broad appeal for a very long time, the artist still has managed to dodge wide-spread notoriety – even after his death in 1981.
If there is anything to blame for Motley’s relative obscurity, it is that the bulk of his work – mostly portraits and various cultural tableaux -- is so prized that it has stubbornly remained in private hands, preventing even the most avid of museums from building up any substantial Motley collection.
The Carter show looks at a 40-year slice of Motley’s output, generally filled with splashy colors that belie the occasionally sobering socio-historical backdrop to much of his oeuvre. Through 43 varied canvases, the exhibit traces all the important chapters in Motley’s career, especially from 1919-1960. Particular strong points of the exhibition are Motley’s treatment of the African-American neighborhoods, often taken from his very familiar, and native, Chicago. The Windy City was the stage for Motley’s depiction of hard-times and a more relaxed existence, both walking hand-in-hand. Everyone within these Chicago communities is examined, with Motley paying equal attention to the disenfranchised and the misbegotten -- as in the recently arrived migrant workers, many from the deep South -- to the cossetted elites.
Nothing is off limits on Motley’s canvas, not visual treatises on sexuality, race, or gender. Not to mention, Motley was not timid about treating more hot button issues of his time such as racism and the horrific scourge of slavery.
The exhibit is so rich that it also includes the New Orleans-born, Motley’s exceptional visualizations of everywhere from Mexico in the ‘50s through Paris in the throes of the Jazz Age.
And don’t forget the 'Art in the Dark' related event to the main Motley show: The Carter is planning, on August 7th, to host a four-hour community program where patrons can come and enjoy films, music, art-making, and tours, all of which takes their jumping off point from the Motley exhibit. And you don’t even need a reservation.
Details: Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist. Through September 7 at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, 3501 Camp Bowie Boulevard, Fort Worth. More information about this and other goings-on at the Carter: 817-738-1933; www.cartermuseum.org.
Archibald J. Motley Jr. (1891–1981) Black Belt, 1934; Oil on canvas; © Valerie Gerrard Browne
Collection of the Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia
Barbecue, 1960; Oil on canvas; © Valerie Gerrard Browne; Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne Image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois