Recently, it feels as though social distancing measures and long periods of museum closures have shortchanged us when it comes to viewing art. The sprawling exhibition, Vision & Spirit | African American Artworks from the Bank of America Collection, certainly helps to remedy that feeling. With over 100 works by 48 artists, this show is a feast in a year of famine. The exhibition, which spans two of the Harvey B. Gantt Center’s galleries, aims to demonstrate the resilience of Black people through the lens of the artists on display. Curator Dexter Wimberly certainly achieves this goal. The scope of this show increases its power, but its core success is a direct result of the depth that dynamic juxtapositions create.
Vision & Spirit is not presented chronologically, nor is it divided by medium or subject matter. Instead, works of all varieties are interwoven— hope and despair, prosperity and oppression, unbridled joy and crushing defeat— are all on display here. Ernest C. Withers’ black and white photos of Civil Rights Era marches hang next to a colorful painting of an abstract structure by Juan Logan entitled Wish Giver V (1991). Thinking of Another Life (2020) by 25-year-old, Raelis Vasquez, depicts a young boy in a lawn chair staring dubiously into the distance. If we follow his gaze, we reach a Faith Ringgold quilt, which features an earnest old woman and a poem that tells the tale of escape from enslavement. A jazz-inspired paper piece called Jam Session III (1992) by Kevin Cole transitions to an expressive and deceptively cheerful pastel of slave quarters by Beverly Buchanan. There is a great deal of duality at play, but there is also everything in between any two poles. Each piece functions as a line in a much richer story— much richer than the one those outside of the experience have chosen to see.
Wholeness is an elusive concept, rarely achieved, much less through curation, but Vision & Spirit certainly makes a compelling attempt. For those who have found themselves craving deeper understanding, empathy, unadorned truth or even hope, a visit to this exhibition would be a good start.