WHEN ‘ARCHIBALD MOTLEY: JAZZ AGE MODERNIST’ opened at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University three years ago, one of the most compelling aspects of the exhibition was the presentation of a series of Chicago scene paintings—expressive images of lively gatherings defined by the artist’s masterful use of color. The museum announced the acquisition of one of the most prized paintings in the group in an article published today in Duke Today. Heirs to Archibald Motley (1891–1981) gifted “Hot Rhythm,” a 1961 oil on canvas, to the Nasher in honor of Richard Powell, the Duke University professor and art historian who organized the exhibition, and his wife C.T. Woods-Powell.
“We are extremely proud to accept the gift of this dazzling painting by Archibald Motley, now recognized as one of the preeminent American artists of the 20th century. This acquisition is an endorsement of our program to champion works by artists of African descent, as we have since the museum opened in 2005. We fell in love with ‘Hot Rhythm’ while it was here during the Motley exhibition and now it’s come home. This painting is truly a crown jewel in our collection and a fitting tribute to Rick Powell, who brought well-deserved new attention to a great artist,” Sarah Schroth, the museum’s director said in Duke Today.
“This acquisition is an endorsement of our program to champion works by artists of African descent, as we have since the museum opened in 2005. We fell in love with ‘Hot Rhythm’ while it was here during the Motley exhibition and now it’s come home.” — Sarah Schroth, Director of the Nasher Museum
Bronzeville, a once-thriving Black Mecca in Chicago was a frequent haunt of Motley. He hung out in the neighborhood for inspiration. Its characters and nightclubs became his subjects. In “Hot Rhythm” he references the local jazz culture and uses “hot” colors to evoke the vibe of the scene.
After opening at the Nasher Museum on Jan. 30, 2014, “Jazz Age Modernist,” the first retrospective of Motley’s paintings in two decades, embarked on a national tour. The exhibition traveled to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Chicago Cultural Center, before being presented at the Whitney Museum, the final venue where it closed on Jan. 17, 2016.
When the exhibition was on view, I spoke to Powell about Motley’s work and his aesthetic approach in the scene paintings. “He is very much thinking about groups and collective activity and scenes and, as a result, he is also thinking about how one composes those scenes in an expressive and an informative way,” Powell said. “He is thinking about color in incredibly progressive ways. If you go through those galleries, you see turquoise and purple and magenta and orange and cobalt blue and pink. He is not afraid to not paint things as you see them, but as you might feel them.” His insights are reflected in “Hot Rhythm.”
“He is thinking about color in incredibly progressive ways. …You see turquoise and purple and magenta and orange and cobalt blue and pink. He is not afraid to not paint things as you see them, but as you might feel them.” — Richard Powell, Duke Professor and Art Historian
A gift from Mara Motley, M.D., and Valerie Gerrard Browne, the artist’s granddaughter and daughter-in-law, “Hot Rhythm” will be on view at the Nasher Museum later this month. CT
TOP IMAGE: ARCHIBALD MOTLEY JR., “Hot Rhythm,” 1961 (oil on canvas). | Collection of Mara Motley, MD, and Valerie Gerrard Browne. Image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois. © Valerie Gerrard Browne
“Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist” was published to coincide with the exhibition organized by the Nasher Museum. An earlier volume, “The Art of Archibald J. Motley, Jr.,” accompanied the artist’s 1991 show at the Chicago Historical Society. “Archibald J. Motley Jr.” was published as a part of the David C. Driskell Series of African American Art.