Opinion: Harlem on my Mind, 50 years later would Reginald Gammon still be protesting the American art establishment?
Above: Freedom Now by Reginald Gammon
With the highly anticipated Tate Modern exhibition Soul of a Nation and the current political climate in the United States, we are experiencing a renewed look at the culture of Black Power. When studying the contributions of the black arts community to the political advancement demanded by African-Americans, there were groups of note that helped usher in the required changes. One of the groups that stood firm and were a part of the push for civil rights in the United States was the Spiral Group. Based in New York City, the group composed of artists Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, Reginald Gammon, and others interpreted the turbulent times with their art. Reginald Gammon, a little-known member of Spiral but no less important. He is not only part of the Tate Modern’s Soul of a Nation, his piece ” Scottsboro Mothers” was acquired by the Columbus Museum in Columbus Georgia and his prints will be on view at the Outpost with The University of New Mexico Art Museum, UNM School of Fine Arts, & The African-American Performing Arts Center. Further, Mr. Gammon’s piece Holy Family is a part of the exhibit Say It Loud: Art, History, Rebellion at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History in Detroit. Below, we are introduced to Mr. Gammon’s work via the opinion of R. of Do You Basel and his impact on the art world.–Melissa Hunter Davis
Harlem On My Mind, the Metropolitan Art Museum exhibit in 1969, caused the art world to shake from within and from the outside. Director Thomas P.F. Hoving and Allon Schoener the Curator were modernizing the way the museum system exhibited art. As a result, they caused an uproar in the black art community. Now they would have to deal with Negros demanding to be included in the show.
In the late 60’s BLACK POWER was replacing FREEDOM NOW as the mantra of the rank and file black activist. Reginald Gammon’s intellect and art, favored radical activism to effect change in America. The BLACK POWER movement became the force that moved the Museums to change their modus operandi. How did Reginald Gammon come to play a small but crucial role in moving things forward?
1963: Reginald Gammon joined the artist collective in Harlem called Spiral — a group of African-American artists that included Romare Bearden, Richard Mayhew, Hale Woodruff, Alvin Hollingsworth and others. The purpose of Spiral was to stimulate an ongoing exchange of evolving ideas to discuss how the arts community could play a role in the civil rights movement.
1965: Spiral held its only group exhibition at Cinque the Christopher Street art gallery in New York City. The title of the exhibit was Black and White. This show was a pointed statement about the civil rights movement. Since the issues of the 60’s were black and white, all the exhibition pieces were black and white too. Included in that show was Gammon’s Freedom Now and Bearden’s Mysteries.
Above: Attorney Samuel Leibowitz and the Scottsboro Boys in Jail
Gammon’s political slant is revealed in his art.The difference in the styles and message of Freedom Now by Gammond and Mysteries by Bearden was evidence of two different mindsets. Gammon’s art showed a willingness to confront the issues head on. This would become evident later in his decision to leave Spiral and support Benny Andrews with forming the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC).
Reginald Gammon’s work has always been impactful.
Read more at Black Art in America
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