Michael Rosenfeld Gallery’s third solo exhibition for Benny Andrews (1930-2006) will open on Saturday, September 26, 2020. The exhibition, Benny Andrews: Portraits, A Real Person Before the Eyes, will showcase a selection of portraits by Andrews, representing a vital and constant genre throughout the artist’s oeuvre. Benny Andrews: Portraits will feature 35 portraits, created between 1957 and 1998. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated color catalogue with new scholarship by Jessica Bell Brown, Associate Curator for Contemporary Art, The Baltimore Museum of Art; Connie H. Choi, Associate Curator, Permanent Collection, The Studio Museum in Harlem; and Kyle Williams, Director of the Andrews-Humphrey Family Foundation.
Benny Andrews: Portraits will include paintings, works on paper, and a selection of journals from the Andrews-Humphrey Archive. The exhibition will trace Andrews’ commitment to portraiture, starting in 1957 with the seminal Janitors at Rest, which first introduced collage into his painting. Searching for a visual language to capture the immediacy of everyday life and the quotidian nature of his subject matter, Andrews first developed his “rough collage” technique, combining scraps of paper and cloth with oil paint on canvas, as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This critical process is one that Andrews would continue to refine for decades—across all genres but especially in his deeply humanizing portraits. Andrews employed his now signature use of paint and collage to build up surface to create depictions composed of fleshy tactility, extending his sitters into three-dimensional space as a way of emphasizing their human presence and defining their distinct characteristics, since “collage provided him with a degree of depth and breadth not found in painterly realism.” Indeed, his discovery of collage and texture was a way to construct surface in order to affirm his interest in both the individual and shared experience of humanity. His powerful and poignant depictions of people—both named and unnamed—reinforce his deep connection to the emotional soul of mankind.
The exhibition will also include portraits of fellow artists including Marcel Duchamp, Ray Johnson, Norman Lewis, Alice Neel, and Howardena Pindell, as well as of his father George C. Andrews, and wife, Nene Humphrey. While Andrews created portraits of people he knew, as well as of himself, portraiture also served as a vehicle through which he could metaphorically express the personification of ideas, thoughts, emotions and values.
In her essay for the exhibition’s catalogue, Jessica Bell Brown writes of Andrews’ remarkable portraits: “Taken together, these works signal what it means to be at once the beholder and image-maker, to open new portals for irreducible sensibilities unique to those being portrayed. Andrews’ empathetic brush has over the course of time straddled the line between inventiveness and observation, and honed the ability to truly grapple with all the complexities of identity and self-making. In this contemporary moment of evident and renewed socio-political reckoning, Andrews’ portraits are faithful models for holding space for the expansiveness of subjectivity and personhood in American art.”
The work of Benny Andrews can be seen in the following current museum exhibitions (closing dates provided):
Collection 1940s–1970s, in the section “War Within, War Without”
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Ongoing
Tell Me Your Story: 100 Years of Storytelling in African American Art
Kunsthal KAdE, Amersfoort, The Netherlands; August 30, 2020
Catalyst, Art and Social Justice
The Gracie Mansion Conservancy, New York, NY; September 8, 2021
Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, TX; August 30, 2020
For America: Paintings from the National Academy of Design
Dixon Gallery & Gardens, Memphis, TN; September 27, 2020
Picture the Dream: The Story of Civil Rights through Children’s Books
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; November 8, 2020
50X50: Stories of Visionary Artists from the Collection
San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA; Summer 2020 In 2008, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC became the representative of the Benny Andrews Estate. To learn more about the artist, click here.