Spiral: Perspectives on an African-American Art Collective

December 05, 2010 - April 17, 2011

In the early 1960s in New York, the artist Romare Bearden invited a group of African-American artists to meet and discuss their roles as black artists during the charged years of the Civil Rights movement. On July 5th, 1963, the group decided to form a collective and called themselves Spiral. The name was inspired by the Archimedean spiral, which moves outward embracing all directions, yet constantly upward.

Members of Spiral included Bearden, Hale Woodruff, Norman Lewis, Richard Mayhew, Charles Alston, and Reginald Gammon, among others. The only woman invited to join the group was Emma Amos. The artists met regularly to discuss aesthetics, black identity in a mostly white art world, and the matter of responsibility to the community versus artistic freedom. While almost all of the artists had begun their careers with figural work, many were interested in exploring abstraction while continuing to address issues of race, and the urgent social concerns of the day. It was during the Spiral period that Bearden developed his technique of collage, combining photographs of African masks and faces with subject matter from the African-American community. The group organized an exhibition in which each member had to submit work in black and white. The exhibition was a success, but the group members eventually moved apart and on to other concerns.

This exhibition, Spiral: Perspectives on an African-American Art Collective, features work by Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, Charles Alston, Hale Woodruff, Reginald Gammon, Richard Mayhew, and Emma Amos. Works are drawn from private collectors, galleries, and museums, and the BMA permanent collection.