Motley is 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. With a survey that spans 40 years, Archibald Motley introduces the artist’s canvases of riotous color to wider audiences and reveals his continued impact on art history.
Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist, the first retrospective of the American artist’s paintings in two decades, includes 42 works from each period of Motley’s lifelong career, from 1919 to 1960. Motley’s scenes of life in the African-American community, often in his native Chicago, depict a parallel universe of labor and leisure. His portraits are voyeuristic but also genealogical examinations of race, gender and sexuality. Motley does not shy away from folklore fantasies; he addresses slavery and racism head on. The exhibition also features his noteworthy canvases of Jazz Age Paris and 1950s Mexico. Significant works will be presented together for the first time.
Produced with support from a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist opened in January at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University and will later travel to the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (October 19, 2014–February 1, 2015); the Chicago Cultural Center (March 6–August 31, 2015) and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (Fall 2015).