posted 2011-02-23 07:00:50

Moments in Black History - The Arsenal Gallery celebrates Black History Month through art

The Arsenal Gallery: not your typical gallery experience. (Beatrice D'Alimonte/The Envoy)
The Arsenal Gallery: not your typical gallery experience. (Beatrice D'Alimonte/The Envoy)
Moments in Black History

The Arsenal Gallery celebrates Black History Month through art

Alexandra Niemetz

Staff Writer

Black History Month has been celebrated every February by the United States since 1976. This year, New Yorkers were treated to a very special exhibition at the Arsenal Gallery. The Arsenal Gallery, which is technically part of Central Park, is housed in a stunning armory-like building on 64th Street and 5th Avenue. The exhibit, which opened on Feb. 2 and will run until Feb. 28, is on the third floor of the building. In order to visit the exhibition, gallery-goers must simply sign in at the front desk. This is not your typical gallery experience — no intimidating desk clerk, and no packed opening.

The layout of the gallery is also different from the typical Chelsea gallery layout — a few tables and chairs are strewn in the middle of the floor while most of the work is displayed on the walls. It is cluttered, but the vast space and large windows that provide a beautiful source of natural light keep it from seeming cramped.

The exhibition, entitled Heritage of Innovation: Celebrating Black History Month, encompasses the vast accomplishments and key figures in black culture over the past 150 years. A large variety of artists are represented in the gallery, all using different forms of art and media to convey the accomplishments and notoriety within the black community. Various mediums of art are covered within the exhibition, including painting, digital art, photography and sculpture. The artists featured in the show include Justin Nisskey, Micha McGlown, Andrew Eccles, Kwame Brathwaite, Olga Torrey, Stephen Alcorn and Charley Palmer. While the artists might not provoke the same media reaction that Deitch-endorsed artists such as Kehinde Wiley do, they collectively create a phenomenal show with a variety of different artistic styles.

A reoccurring theme throughout the exhibition is the use of portraits depicting various African-American idols. Portraits of Josephine Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Dianna Ross, Alvin Ailey, Frederick Douglass, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald grace the walls of this beautiful exhibition. These iconic portraits transport the viewer to essential moments in African-American history.

The works in the exhibition also portray a range of time periods throughout moments in black history.  It starts with Stephen Alcorn’s digital prints, recognizing the historical importance of figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Alcorn’s prints resemble modern etchings with hints of neutral color, and represent the beginning of the timeline for civil rights in America. While moving through the exhibition, the viewer must learn to acknowledge the historical changes and become immersed with each movement separately, and then with the culture as a whole.

As for the artwork, Andrew Eccles’ photographs of Alvin Ailey’s dance troops stand out from the rest. Eccles’ photographs display the beautiful forms and shapes of young African-American dancers in an extremely tasteful manner, and are the standout pieces in the exhibition. Perhaps it’s because they not only document, but also highlight Alvin Ailey and the great innovations that he propelled for modern dance. The soothing shapes created by the bodies of the dancers make the viewers feel as if they are entrapped in the movement of the dancers — almost as if the photographs come to life with spurts of fluid movement.