Celebrate the legacies of two contemporary American artists—John Wilson and Eldzier Cortor—each dedicated to an exploration of the African American experience, if from divergent paths and with disparate styles. Featuring approximately 50 works, many shown for the first time, the exhibition highlights the MFA’s significant holdings of prints and drawings by each artist.
Roxbury native John Wilson (1922–2015) graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1945, and his subsequent study with the Mexican muralists from 1950 to 1956 stoked a life-long commitment to social justice in his art. Among his best-known works is a bronze bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1986) commissioned for the Rotunda of the Capitol building in Washington, DC. The exhibition will feature a preparatory drawing for that commission, along with a monumental etched portrait of the slain civil rights leader, shown in a progressive series of states.
Eldzier Cortor (1916–2015) attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the late ’30s. Informed by his early exposure to African sculpture at the Field Museum and his study of the Gullah community on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina, Cortor’s paintings and prints offer stylized depictions of African American women as symbols of strength. A series of visceral abstract etchings and woodcuts (begun 1955) relates to his experience in Haiti, while his painting Still Life: Past Revisited (1973) presents a riotous tumble of nostalgic objects alluding to the rich history of black America in the early 20th century.
Above: John Wilson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (detail), 1985. Black and white pastel on cream Japanese paper. Richard Florsheim Art Fund and Anonymous Gift. © John Wilson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.