3:17 p.m., Sept. 18, 2008----“I majored in art history and have a doctorate in art history but I was not really exposed to African American art until I was working in New Orleans for the National Faculty and lecturing at Tulane in 1994. In New Orleans, African American art surrounded me and called out to me. In a sense, I didn't find it--it found me," said Julie McGee, newly appointed curator of African American art for UD's University Museums.
“My original interest was in northern Renaissance art and modern architecture, but African American and African art became my focus, and I have immersed myself in it and learned all I could,” McGee said.
At UD, McGee is off to a running start in promoting African American art by mounting a new exhibition at the Mechanical Hall Gallery, which houses UD's Paul R. Jones Collection of African American Art. “Discursive Acts: African American Art at UD and Beyond” will open Wednesday, Oct. 1, with a 5-7 p.m. reception and remarks by McGee and run until Dec. 7. She also will give a gallery talk at 4 p.m., Friday, Oct. 17, during Homecoming Weekend.
Two artist talks also are scheduled. Keith Morrison will give the Paul R. Jones Lecture on his paintings, at 7 p.m., Tues., Oct. 7, and Kevin Cole will speak on “Straight from the Soul,” at 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 23. Both lectures will be in 112 McDowell Hall, and the gallery will remain open until 9 p.m. both evenings.
“The overarching theme of the exhibition is viewing African American art as a catalyst for conversations, interchanges, dialog and discourse, opening the door to many worlds, ideas and connections,” McGee said. “My goal is to create dynamic programming centered around African American art on campus.”
Using artwork from the Paul R. Jones Collection and loans from other sources to broaden the exhibition, McGee is dividing Discursive Acts into three gallery spaces. The main gallery has the theme of liberty and self-determination triumphing over adversity, the second is 'conversations” with “blackness,” playful or in a way that challenges the viewer. The third will feature idyllic southern and Caribbean landscapes.
McGee has been curator of several exhibitions of African American art, including many at Bowdoin College, and an exhibition at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey in 2007, featuring the work of Peter Williams, UD professor of art, for which she wrote the catalog.
While in South Africa in 2001 as a lecturer at the University of Cape Town, McGee had the opportunity to experience African art firsthand and was curator for an exhibition, “Homecoming: Seven South African Artists,” held in the black township of Langa. She co-produced a documentary film that explores post-apartheid conditions for black South African artists. “In a way I had come full circle as my interest in Northern Renaissance art was connected to the Dutch who were among the colonizers of South Africa. Now I confront the impact of colonization, its adverse effects and artists' attempts to transcend them” she said.
McGee also has written a book, David C. Driskell: Artist and Scholar. The renowned African American artist, who was a neighbor of McGee in Maine, is a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, and its Driskell Center, which houses a large collection of African American art, is named in his honor. Four of his works will be on display at the UD exhibition.
“It is wonderful that two flagship universities, which are near each other, have African American art collections and programming,” McGee said.
While African American art is specialized and endowed with particular histories and culture, as is Latino art and Native American art, McGee said, it is important that, while honoring its individuality, to view African American art as American art and universally, as connected to all art.
McGee said she wants to use the Paul R. Jones Collection to build outwards and form partnerships while continuing to strengthen African American art at the University. “My goal is to have the whole campus become my classroom and interface with the curriculum, with faculty and students using the collection as a resource in innovative ways,” McGee said.
McGee is a graduate of Bowdoin College and received her master's and doctoral degrees in art history from Bryn Mawr College. She was a Rockefeller Humanities Fellow at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage before coming to UD and before that had a joint appointment in art history and Africana studies on the faculty at Bowdoin College.
Article by Sue Moncure
Photo by Kathy Atkinson