Collection of African-American portraits opens at LCMOA

By Dan Lambert

A new exhibit at the Las Cruces Museum of Art combines two rarities in a fine art museum: it’s a portrait show, and the subjects are all of African descent.“Looking Ahead: Portraits from the Mott-Warsh Collection” will open Friday, and it packs some big names not often grouped together, among them Chuck Close, Romare Bearden, Robert Arneson and the controversial Robert Mapplethorpe, whose sexually provocative work raised ire in the early ’90s when it received public funding.

“I was interested in getting the show for its content and its approach of using entirely portraiture to speak of the African-American experience,” says Joy Miller, curator at LCMOA.

Several of the works are self-portraits, and some are portraits of artists who are represented in the Mott-Warsh Collection, which was put together by Maryanne Mott and her husband, the late Herman Warsh, starting in 2001. The couple made the exhibit accessible to the public in their native Flint, Mich.

The collection’s primary focus is on works created by artists of African descent; it lends artwork to Flint area cultural institutions and museums across the country.

The portrait show, “Looking Ahead,” is a selection by Mott-Warsh curator Camille Ann Brewer.

“In general, art museums seldom present portrait exhibitions,” Brewer wrote in a press release. “This exhibition was organized as an attempt to help fill that void, and unite a group of artists, who rarely if at all, are shown together in the same venue.”

The complete list of artists is Charles Alston, John Biggers, Mary Borgman, Elizabeth Catlett, Diane Edison, Chester Higgins Jr., Whitfield Lovell, Allie McGhee, Hank Willis Thomas, Mildred Thompson, Alphonse van Woerkom, Charles White, Peter Williams, John Wilson, Richard Wyatt Jr. and Richard Yarde.

The piece by Mapplethorpe is not one of his sexually explicit ones.

“The exhibition is both representational and conceptual, examining the social, political, and culture nuances of the Black face and head in fine art and popular visual culture,” Brewer writes. “This theme of Black portraiture has been primarily explored in photography and literature, yet rarely in fine art museum exhibitions.”

“There is one bronze sculpture in the show, the rest is painting, printmaking, photography and drawing,” Miller says. “The diversity of the artists represented is remarkable! …