Since the Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist exhibit opened at LACMA in October 2014, we have framed an increasingly large number of prints of his work. His lively, vibrant, cheerful work is seemingly popular with people of all ages and walks of life.
The exhibit, in its final two weeks; will be ending on February 1st.
Archibald John Motley Jr. (1891–1981) is one of the most significant yet least known twentieth-century artists, despite the continued broad appeal of his paintings. Many of his most important portraits and cultural scenes remain in private collections and few museums have had the opportunity to acquire his work. In a survey that spans forty years, Archibald Motley introduces the artist’s colorful canvases to a wider audience and reveals the rich sociological and art historical underpinnings of his work.
Archibald Motley includes forty-three works spanning each period of Motley’s career, from 1919 to 1960.
Motley’s scenes of life in an African-American community, often in his native Chicago, depict a parallel existence of labor and leisure. His portraits are voyeuristic, but they are also examinations of race, gender, and sexuality. Motley did not shy away from folklore fantasies, directly addressing slavery and racism.
Motley was born in New Orleans, but during the first half of the twentieth century he lived and worked in a predominately white neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest side, a few miles from the city’s growing black community known as “Bronzeville.” Motley’s work examines this community, carefully constructing scenes that depict Chicago’s African-American elites, but also the worlds of the recently disembarked migrants from the South and other characters commonly overlooked.
In 1929, Motley won a Guggenheim Fellowship that funded a year of study in France. His 1929 work Blues, a colorful, rhythm-inflected painting of Jazz Age Paris, has long provided a canonical picture of African American cultural expression during this period. Several other memorable canvases vividly capture the pulse and tempo of “la vie bohème.” Similar in spirit to his Chicago paintings, these Parisian canvases extended the geographical boundaries of the Harlem Renaissance, depicting an African diaspora in Montparnasse’s meandering streets and congested cabarets.
He died in Chicago in 1981.
Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist presents a full-scale survey of one the most important artists of the Harlem Renaissance, featuring the painter’s visual examination of African American culture during the Jazz Age.
The exhibition covers Motley’s entire career, including periods in Chicago, Paris, and Mexico. Motley received his formal training at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and went on to create strong and somewhat solemn portraits of his community, as well as vividly hued, lively scenes of crowded dance halls that reflect the colorful spirit of the Harlem Renaissance.
The exhibition features a number of paintings depicting the black communities of Chicago and Paris just before and after the Great Depression, and concludes with introspective moments of quotidian life in Mexico, made during the artist’s travels during the 1950’s.
Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist