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Legacy of Cool

Contemporary artist Barkley L. Hendricks honored by show at MassArt

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Legacy of Cool
Barkley Hendricks was best-known for his oil portraits of African American subjects. (Photo: Celina Colby)

“Legacy of Cool” at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, is a tribute to Barkley L. Hendricks, an African American conceptualist who died last year. Curator Darci Hanna paid homage to the brilliant artist with an extensive display of contemporary artists working in a similar spirit. The resulting exhibition goes far beyond a memorial. “Legacy of Cool” offers one of the most intricate analyses of contemporary black artwork Boston has seen in years.

Author: Celina Colby“Legacy of Cool” at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design pays tribute to Barkley L. Hendricks.

If you go

what: “Legacy of Cool”

where: MassArt Bakalar and Paine galleries, 621 Huntington Ave., Boston

when: On display through March 3; Gallery hours: Monday–Saturday noon–6 p.m., Wednesdays 12–8 p.m.

tickets: Free and open to the public

On the Web

To learn more about Hendricks and the show, visit: https://massart.edu/exhibitions/galleries/legacy-cool-tribute-barkley-l-hendricks

Author: Celina ColbyThe artworks in “Legacy of Cool” is inspired by Hendricks’ conceptual art.

In the lower-level entrance to the exhibit, a few of Hendricks’ works are displayed alongside a wall of printed Instagram photos fans posted after his death. Though Hendricks worked in a number of media, he is most well known for his life-sized oil portraits of black Americans. His goal was to bring to these works a sense of dignity and pride of which African Americans are often deprived. Several of these are on view in the first room, providing a taste of Hendricks’ portrait style, his depiction of black subjects and the widespread impact he had on young art lovers. Upstairs, things get even more interesting.

Directly across the room from the entrance is Nona Faustine’s “Over My Dead Body” from her 2013 “White Shoes” series. Faustine’s photograph features her from behind, nude except for a pair of white pumps, walking up the steps of the Tweed Courthouse in New York City. The courthouse was built on an African burial ground. Faustine carries a pair of shackles in her hand. The human body was the currency of slavery, and so Faustine’s body is at the heart of her work. Her nude state at once illustrates vulnerability and demands confrontation.

Artist Steve Locke, an associate professor at MassArt and a longtime favorite of Boston’s Gallery Kayafas and Samsøn Projects, exhibits a piece from his “Killers” series. Aesthetically, it’s more muted than Faustine’s photograph, but the pencil on paper drawings pack just as hard a punch. The drawn portraits situate white men such as Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown, and Dylann Roof, the Charleston church shooter, next to black victims. Through simple lines and shading, Locke is doing what politicians are afraid to, calling these men as they are.

“Legacy of Cool” is the exhibit Boston desperately needs to illustrate how much more there is to black visual art than African statues tucked into museum corners. The show runs through March 3 at the MassArt Bakalar and Paine galleries on Huntington Avenue.