art & antiques, archibald motley

THE MOTIVATION BEHIND MOUNTING “Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist” has everything to do with exposure, recasting the legacy of an important 20th century painter. Based in Chicago, Archibald Motley (1891-1981) painted captivating portraits, lively street scenes and spirited social gatherings with a modern perspective. His canvases capture African American life with wry humor and bold, animated color. Critically regarded in his time, Motley has been under-appreciated in the larger art historical narrative.

art & antiques oct 2014 coverOrganized by Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art, “Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist” is currently on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) through Feb. 1, 2015. The retrospective presents 42 works painted between 1919 and 1961. Depicting Chicago jazz, Paris blues and moments from his visits to Mexico, its the first full-scale Motley survey in 20 years.

In “Mix Master,” Edward M. Gomez reports on the Motley’s life, work and the LACMA exhibition for Art & Antiques magazine.

Duke Professor Richard J. Powell curated the retrospective and edited the accompanying catalog. “Powell’s examination of Motley’s work is an exemplary exercise in revisionist art history that seeks nothing less than to secure for its subject and his accomplishments an overdue, more prominent place in American modern art’s canon,” Gomez writes.

Powell’s examination of Motley’s work is an exemplary exercise in revisionist art history that seeks nothing less than to secure for its subject and his accomplishments an overdue, more prominent place in American modern art’s canon. — Art & Antiques magazine

Motley presented his work at the New Gallery in 1928. It was a groundbreaking event. The brochure described the solo exhibition as the first by a Negro artist at a commercial gallery in New York. Many exhibitions preceded and followed that show, and in 1929 he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship to study in France.

The current exhibition’s title references Motley’s modern viewpoint. “In part we’d like to show that Motley was ahead of his time, and that his work is relevant to our world today, for through his art he addressed some complex themes that may still seem complex and difficult for some people to easily grasp,” Powell says in Art & Antiques.


“Barbecue,” 1960 (oil on canvas) by Archibald J. Motley Jr. | Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne. Image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois. © Valerie Gerrard Browne.

Meanwhile, the Nasher Museum in its exhibition materials explains Motley’s status, calling him “one of the most significant yet least visible 20th-century artists, despite the broad appeal of his paintings. Many of his most important portraits and cultural scenes remain in private collections; few museums have had the opportunity to acquire his work.”

Now, mainstream museums across the country are taking advantage of the opportunity to help raise his profile and present his works to the American public.

In August, Motley’s “Nightlife” (1943) from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago was selected for the Art Everywhere campaign, a collaboration between museums and the billboard industry aimed at sparking public interest in American art and museums.

After opening at the Nasher in Durham, N.C,, “Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist” traveled to the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Following its tenure at LACMA, the retrospective heads to the Chicago Cultural Center before concluding at the Whitney Museum in New York, where it will be on view at its new Renzo Piano-designed building in the Meatpacking District (Fall 2015).

It’s an encore appearance. Motley was included in “Contemporary Black Artists in America,” a group exhibition at the Whitney in 1933. CT

Art & Antiques, October 2014 | “Mix Master,” by Edward M. Gomez, Pages 66-70.

READ my Culture Talk with Richard J. Powell, curator of “Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist”


“Self-Portrait (Myself at Work),” 1933 (oil on canvas) by Archibald J. Motley Jr. |Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne. Image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois. © Valerie Gerrard Browne.

Painting titled "Portrait of My Grandmother"by Archibald J. Motley, Jr.; 1922
“Portrait of My Grandmother, “ 1922 (oil on canvas) | Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne. Image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois. © Valerie Gerrard Browne.

nasher-motley-black-belt
“Black Belt,” 1934 (oil on canvas) by Archibald J. Motley Jr. | Collection of the Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia. © Valerie Gerrard Browne.

Tongues (Holy Rollers)
“Tongues (Holy Rollers),” 1929 (oil on canvas) by Archibald J. Motley Jr. | Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne. Image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois. © Valerie Gerrard Browne.

nasher-motley-octoroon-girl
“The Octoroon Girl,” 1925 (oil on canvas) by Archibald J. Motley Jr. | Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, New York. © Valerie Gerrard Browne.

nasher-motley-the-picnic
“The Picnic,” 1936 (oil on canvas) by Archibald J. Motley Jr. | Collection of the Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. © Valerie Gerrard Browne.