Looking back on William H. Johnson: An American Modern

April 15, 2014

2014 at the Arthur Ross Gallery began with the masterful, vividly colorful work of William H. Johnson (1901-1970), a pivotal figure in modern American art. This traveling exhibition featured key stages in Johnson’s career and was developed by Baltimore’s James E. Lewis Museum of Art, Morgan State University, and the Smithsonian Institution. The Gallery and Penn’s Center for Africana Studies co-hosted the opening reception which featured the world premiere performance of “The William H. Johnson Suite” by Dr. Guy Ramsey and MusiQology. The cold grip of the night air outside was quickly forgotten as over 100 gallery visitors enjoyed the warmth of spectacular art and music.
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Music was a recurring theme at the ARG this year, and what better way to escape the gray days, freezing temps, and polar vortices, than with an evening radiating with music and art? Free concerts by Mimi Stillman and the Dolce Suono Ensemble and Valentine’s Déjà Vu were a hit with Gallery visitors.

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A very special thanks to the Arthur Ross Gallery’s Student Advisory Board members Marlena Mattei, Benjamin Behrend, and Elizabeth Kobert for working so diligently to make such a memorable Valentine’s event. The evening featured live music by a jazz ensemble featuring Penn’s own Benjamin Dickstein (saxophone) Jonathan Wachter (piano) Mark Eisen (drums) and Jin Youb Lee (Bass).

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The Gallery hosted two lectures for the William H. Johnson exhibition. Abdi Farah, Penn Alumnus and winner of the first season of Bravo Network’s “Work of Art: Next Great Artists” launched at Pod with students from the ARG Student Advisory Board as well as from the Penn Art Club on March 4. At his lecture that evening, Farah referenced the influence of William H. Johnson on his own work, and discussed his new work as an artist in residence in New Orleans.

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The Gallery also invited preeminent scholar Dr. Lesile King-Hammond, to discuss Johnson Dr. King-Hammond recounted literally retracing Johnson’s path throughout Scandinavia. Her passion for the work held the audience spellbound.

The William H. Johnson exhibition had something in store for all ages. Artist/educator Sebastienne Mundheim, created an outreach program for 200 5th and 6th graders that inspired curiosity. Students from Kearny School; The Baldwin School; Samuel Powel Elementary; Spring Garden Elementary and St. Mary’s Interparochial participated in Engaging Minds through Art.
Groups from the West Philadelphia Community Center, Bala Cynwyd Middle School, and the Jubilee School attended staff-led tours.

In Memoriam

Professor Terry Adkins passed away on February 7, 2014. Terry created Darkwater: a Recital in Four Dominions, that was guest curated by Dejay Duckett in 2001 at the Arthur Ross Gallery. His work is currently on view at the 2014 Whitney Biennial in New York City. He was an incredible force on campus will be greatly missed by the ARG family.

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