Romare Bearden Exhibit and Other Art at Columbia University

Romare Beardon, "Poseiden. The Sea God-Enemy of Odysseus" (1977);  collage of various papers, with foil, paint, ink and graphite on fiberboard)

Romare Beardon, “Poseiden. The Sea God-Enemy of Odysseus” (1977); collage of various papers, with foil, paint, ink and graphite on fiberboard

“Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey” is an exciting new exhibit on view at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University. Based on Homer’s poem, Bearden created a series of collages and watercolors that bring to life Odysseus’s battles, triumphs, temptations and sacrifices that he experienced in his 10-year journey home to Ithaca.

Bearden’s interpretations “bridge classical mythology and African American culture,” notes the exhibition catalog. “Bearden saw Harlem in Homer’s Odyssey, and Odysseus in Harlem.”

Matisse illustration from 1935 edition of  James Joyce's Ulysses

Matisse illustration from 1935 edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses

Also on view at the exhibit is a 1935 special edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses from Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The book contains reproductions of 20 preliminary drawings and six etchings by Henri Matisse, who based his illustrations on six episodes in Homer’s Odyssey. This was particularly interesting to see following on the heels of the MoMA “Matisse Cutouts” exhibit which closed recently. Watching Bearden create his collages in a film available at the exhibit is reminiscent of a similar film shown at the “Cutouts” exhibition; both artists drawing with scissors.


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The Wallach Art Gallery is just one location at Columbia University to see art work. It’s also worth visiting Columbia University for  the wide range of sculptures situated throughout the Morningside campus, including works by Auguste Rodin, Daniel Chester French, and Henry Moore. The outdoor sculptures are part of approximately 10,000 works of art, overseen by Columbia’s Art Properties department. Donated to the University over the past two centuries, the art can be found in public spaces and also held in storage. They include:

  • Nearly 2,000 paintings, including hundreds of portraits of Columbia administrators and faculty since the eighteenth century, and the largest repository of paintings by Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944)
  • About 900 works of fine art photography from daguerreotypes to Andy Warhol polaroids
  • The Sackler Collection of over 2,000 Asian art works, including Buddhist sculpture in stone, bronze, and polychrome wood from India, China, and Japan
  • Hundreds of works on paper (drawings, watercolors, prints) and decorative arts (ceramics, tapestries, furniture) from around the globe

Roberto C. Ferrari, an art historian and librarian, was hired in 2013 as curator of Art Properties. He and his team are developing an online inventory and exploring social media options to make more of the collection digitally accessible not only to the Columbia community, but to art lovers worldwide.

For now, be sure to visit the “Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey” which will be on view through March 14th. Then, when the weather warms up, stroll through the campus to see the collection of outdoor sculptures.


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