Press Release  November 22, 2017

Cleveland Museum of Art Opens Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell Exhibition

The Cleveland Museum of Art, Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund, 2016.268. © Wadsworth Jarrell

Wadsworth Jarrell (American, b. 1929), Heritage, 1973. Acrylic, metal foil, cotton canvas; 120.7 x 76.2 cm.

Cleveland, OH (November 21, 2017)Heritage: Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell examines the work and enduring legacy of Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell (Americans, b. 1929 and 1935). Inspired by the Cleveland Museum of Art's recent acquisition of Heritage, a 1973 painting by Wadsworth Jarrell, the exhibition features 18 works from the mid-1960s to the present in a dazzling array of colorful paintings, sculptures and textiles. Taking the form of an intimate dialogue between husband and wife, Heritage celebrates two Cleveland-based artists and illustrates the couple's keen ability to incite change through art. Heritage: Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell is on view through February 25, 2018, in the Julia and Larry Pollock Focus Gallery.

In 1968, Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell founded the collective AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists), with artists Jeff Donaldson, Barbara J. Jones, and Gerald Williams. Headquartered in Chicago, the group gathered in Wadsworth's studio, uniting with a specific objective in mind: to create an approach to art separate from the dominant Eurocentric point of view. Inspired by the colors, rhythms and patterns that the artists found in the music, fashion and art of the African continent, they developed a style and unique identity that celebrated the richness of their creative heritage and delivered strong, positive messages for black communities.

"Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell are influential artists and activists who create works that celebrate the power, persistence and beauty of African heritage," said Heather Lemonedes, chief curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art. "Their visually stunning objects continue to receive critical national and international attention, and we are honored to showcase their dynamic vision here in Cleveland."

"Shining a light on Jae and Wadsworth's work has long been overdue," said Reto Thüring, curator of contemporary art and chair of modern, contemporary, decorative arts and performing arts and film. "Their work is more relevant than ever and the exhibition illustrates the unrelenting power of what they stand for as artists, parents and activists to this day."

Highlights in Heritage: Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell

Wadsworth became internationally known in the early 1970s as a cofounder and leading figure of AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists). Founded in Chicago in the late 1960s the artist collective was heavily tied to the Black Arts Movement—the aesthetic branch of the Black Power movement of the 1960s and '70s. This painting shows two jazz musicians exuberantly playing their instruments; their bodies are composed of letters and dots of color, and phrases like African Rhythm Our Heritage and Black Funk emerge from the vibrant composition. With vivid colors, the prominent use of language, the integration of collage elements, and the explicit references to jazz music as fundamental to African American culture, Heritagecontains the most crucial aspects of AfriCOBRA's common aesthetic and moral principles.

    Courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art. Collection of the artist. © Jae Jarrell

    Jae Jarrell (American, b. 1935), Frock You, 1994. Wool, wood, mixed media; 186.7 x 123.2 x 15.2 cm. 

    This sculpture features one of Jae's textile designs, a green woolen frock, embedded in a screen-like structure. Evocative of a large collage, the screen is made out of different decorative elements such as a feather, small pieces of mirrored glass, partially painted wood, and a silhouette cutout of a woman wearing a hat. In addition, the artist embedded a dictionary definition of the words frock and frocking, referring to the title's humorous ambiguity.


    AfriCOBRA: Heritage and Pride

    Saturday, December 2, 3 p.m.
    Takes place off site at the Cleveland Public Library, Langston Hughes Branch (10200 Superior Ave, Cleveland, OH 44106)

    AfriCOBRA, the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists, was founded in Chicago at the height of the Civil Rights Movement by a group of black artists who made it their mission to effect positive change with artwork that affirmed and uplifted the black community.

    This program will share an overview on the history of AfriCOBRA followed by a panel discussion with Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell, two of AfriCOBRA's founders who now claim Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood as their home. Their work is the subject of an exhibition titled Heritage: Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell, currently on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

    MIX: Soul

    Friday, February 2, 6–10 p.m.
    Ames Family Atrium

    Enjoy a soulful concoction of music across the decades, inspired by Heritage: Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell.

    $10 in advance, $15 event date, CMA members FREE

    Listening Session: Heritage

    Friday, February 9, 7 p.m.
    Ames Family Atrium
    Free, registration required

    An important and ongoing theme in the Jarrells' artwork is music, particularly within the context of African American heritage, the experiences and history of black people in the United States, and the influence and essence of their African roots.

    Over the run of the exhibition, we're asking visitors to submit the names of songs that they "hear" when they experience Heritage: Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell. At this program, explore the link between visual art and music when we play a selection of those songs and use them as a point of conversation and storytelling between audience members and a panel of music enthusiasts. Moderated by Fredara Hadley, Visiting Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Oberlin Conservatory.

    AfriCOBRA & AACM: Experiments in Art and Music

    Saturday, February 17, 3 p.m.
    Lecture Hall

    In the years following the Civil Rights Movement, African American artists and musicians searched for new ways to contribute to the message of freedom and equality. In Chicago, the black avant-garde formed the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AfriCOBRA) as a way to creatively highlight the communities facing racial and economic injustice. Wadsworth and Jae Jarrell, whose exhibition, Heritage, is currently on view, were among the founding members of AfriCOBRA in 1968. In this program, George Lewis, AACM's foremost chronicler and author of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music will share insights about the new music and art that emerged from Chicago in 1965–75. A member of AACM since 1971 and the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University, Lewis is a trombonist and pioneering composer known internationally for his groundbreaking work in electronic and computer music and computer-based multimedia installations. His lecture will include imagery and musical examples drawing reference to works included in Heritage.

    The Cleveland Museum of Art is supported in part by Cuyahoga County residents through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. The Ohio Arts Council helped fund this exhibition with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence, and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans.

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