Exhibit Thwarted by Pasadena Museum of California Art's Abrupt Closure Gets Wall Space at Nearby Venue

Published : Friday, September 6, 2019 | 5:16 AM

The Sugar Shack (1976) Acrylic on canvas 36 in. x 48 in.; Collection of Jeannie and Jim Epstein © Ernie Barnes Family Trust

An exhibition honoring the late artist Ernie Barnes (1938-2009) that was supposed to have been shown in fall 2018 at the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA), which unexpectedly closed in October, is now on view through September 8 at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles.

The exhibit, “Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective,” opened in May and features more than 40 paintings by the African American artist who’s closely associated with California. The exhibit is guest-curated by Bridget R. Cooks, a professor of African American studies and art history at the University of California, Irvine.

Cooks also curated the three final exhibitions at the PMCA before it closed due to mounting financial problems. One of those was “Grafton Tyler Brown: Exploring California,” a survey of Pacific Northwest landscape paintings and commercial lithographs. Brown (1841-1918) was the state’s first African American contractor who’s also considered the first African American professional artist in California.

Ernie Barnes in 1974

With PMCA closed, Cooks sought a new venue for the Barnes exhibition and found the California African American Museum (CAAM) receptive to showcasing Barnes’ work.

Ernie Barnes is celebrated for narrative depictions of the African American community and his attention to the human body – both its form and movement.

Barnes grew up in segregated Durham, North Carolina and began drawing at a young age. He went on to play professional football for five years before pursuing his art career in Los Angeles. These key chapters in his life are reflected in the retrospective. Through art, personal objects, and ephemera, the exhibition provides a rare overview of his career and highlights the presence of his work in popular culture, according to a Culture Type story last Sunday.

One of his works, “The Sugar Shack,” was painted in 1976 and depicted a dance scene, which was the cover art for Marvin Gaye’s album, I Want You. “The Sugar Shack” achieved cult status and was regularly featured on the hit sitcom Good Times, inspiring a community of television viewers who discussed it after each episode.

Barnes also created some of the 20th century’s most iconic images of African American life. Known for his unique “neo-mannerist” approach of presenting figures through elongated forms, he captured his observations of life growing up in North Carolina, playing professional football in the NFL (1960–1964), and living in Los Angeles.

“Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective” includes examples of his paintings of entertainment and music, and also highlights how Barnes, the official artist of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, extensively represented athletes and sports.

“I would like people to understand how influential Barnes’ style has been on generations of artists who followed him,” Cooks told Culture Type about the artist and the exhibition. “I’d like people to know that he was a professional football player, playing for several teams including the Los Angeles and San Diego Chargers, before he became a full-time professional artist. He maintained his love for athletics throughout his life which is evident in his art.”

To learn more about the Ernie Barnes exhibit, visit www.caamuseum.org/exhibitions/2019/ernie-barnes-a-retrospective.

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