New York

“Black Artists 1970”

Visual Arts Gallery

In a group show called “Black Artists 1970," at the Visual Arts Gallery, only three figures out of sixteen evidence any talent. Bill Howell achieves a hieroglyphic, iconic expressionism in his Growth of a New Life and a sensitive, poetic imagism in his Twelve Seeds of Truth; neither of these is in a mode that I enjoy, but I can grasp their competence. Romare Bearden’s Morning collage includes one very fine Légeresque female figure, but the piece suffers from an unbalanced and overcomplicated, pseudo-De Stijl background. Perhaps the best single piece is a stone head by Warren L. Harris, of his son Warren, Jr.; this massive little black head rests, quite sensitively, on a lithographic stone for a base. Otherwise, the level of quality is less than academic, with the exception of Elton C. Fax’s charcoal Bread! Ethiopia, which is successfully neoVictorian, like a European’s travel sketch from the Levant, although I doubt that the implications of this are intended.

The exhibition is billed as “the first professional Black Art exhibit,” and, aside from the fact that it is hardly of a professional mean standard, it does focus attention on what must be a real problem for blacks in relation to culture at large: romantic identification with peasant life and values as against civilization, which is of the town. No one denies that the present alternative offers charms and rewards. And there is no reason why art like this should not be made and enjoyed in some informal communal milieu, but exhibiting it as “professional” work is another story. Right now this is too like the “art” of thousands of teeny Joan Baezes. Blacks, like everybody else, are going to have to move out from the realm of the merely sincere and decide for themselves whether they want the kibbutz or Paris.

Joseph Masheck