For the first time in its 87-year history, the Frick Collection will present a solo exhibition dedicated to a color artist, the late portrait painter Barkley L. Hendricks. In September 2023, a dozen works by the artist, best known for his life-size paintings of black Americans, will hang alongside works by Rembrandt, Van Dyck and other European masters in the collection’s temporary home. , Frick Madison .
The exhibit, titled “Barkley L. Hendricks: Portraits,” is curated by Frick’s curator, Aimee Ng, and Antwaun Sargent, the influential director of Gagosian, who will act as consulting curator. An illustrated catalog with contributions from designers such as Kehinde Wiley, Derrick Adams, Jeremy O. Harris and Toyin Ojih Odutola will accompany the exhibition.
Hendricks was an accomplished photographer as well as a painter, and his keen eye and warm personality “made everyone feel like a model photographer,” according to Anna Arabindan-Kesson, assistant professor of Afro-American art. American and Black Diaspora at Princeton University. This was reflected in the portraits he often made from still photos, with the friends and family members who were his subjects dressed to perfection in the hottest fashions of the time, beaming with pride and charisma on the canvas.
There are similarities between Hendricks’ subjects and those depicted by the Old Masters, such as Lawdy Mom, a 1969 painting of the artist’s cousin, whose afro hairstyle against an arching background of gold leaf recalls early Italian Renaissance religious panels in Frick’s collection.
Similarly, in Hendricks’ striking portrait Stevethe slight gradations of the man’s white trench coat and trousers can be compared to the detailed draping of clothing in the works of Jan van Eyck, including The Virgin and Child with Saint Barbara, Saint Elisabeth, and Jan Vos. Meanwhile, a reflection of the arched windows can be seen in the subject’s sunglasses from the 1970s, alluding to those that appear in 15th-century Flemish painting.
In recent years, the Frick has moved away from its traditional wheelhouse to show works by contemporary artists like Salman Toor and Jenna Gribbons, in the exhibition ‘Living Histories: Queer Views and Old Masters’. But the long-awaited inclusion of works by a greater diversity of artists, and the political and social issues that come with it, may bother some long-time visitors, curators acknowledge.
“There are traditionalists who don’t think there’s a place for artists of color because that’s not what Frick traditionally does,” curator Aimee Ng told the New York Times. But she added: “Our youth group is bigger than it’s ever been. That tells me we’re headed in the right direction. I don’t want to alienate people who have been with Frick for 40, 50, 60 years. I want to bridge the gap between the historical collection and the other works of art.
“Barkley L. Hendricks: Portraits at the Frick” will be presented at Frick Madison from September 21, 2023 to January 7, 2024.
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