Did you know Crystal Bridges is currently offering free virtual gallery tours? 3 in 30 takes participants on a virtual tour of three artworks in 30 minutes, with many revolving around a theme. The tours are led by a guide, and participants can join from all over the world and are encouraged to join in conversation about what they see. In honor of Black History Month, Wednesday 3 in 30 events explore and discuss Black artists and artworks in the collection. Below is a recap of the virtual gallery tour that took place on February 10.
The theme of the tour on February 10 was “Are we brave enough to see it?,” which was inspired by a line from the poem read at President Joe Biden’s inauguration by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman (“For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”)
The first artwork on the tour was Our Town (1995) by Kerry James Marshall. The guide explained that the title of the work is taken from the Thornton Wilder play of the same name about an idyllic turn-of-the-century town. With these visuals, the guide explained to the group, Marshall is trying to evoke the symbols of an all-American town. Participants made observations of the painting: The birds with the ribbons look Disney-like. The picturesque house on the right juxtaposes with a graffiti-like feel on the left. The colors across the painting are vivid. The conversation on Our Town concluded with a discussion about the figures in the foreground. In choosing the dark, black color of the figures, Marshall strived to make a statement about the invisibility of Blackness he saw in art.
The second artwork in the tour was A Warm Summer Evening in 1863 (2008) by Kara Walker. Reinventing the work of tapestry weaving, Walker reproduced an etching from an 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly that documented the burning of a “colored orphan asylum.” To drive home the emotional reality of this atrocity, Walker superimposed the silhouette of a hanged Black woman over this scene with felt. Guests commented on the jarring scene and discussed that the historical nature of the tapestry made them want to learn more about what happened and to ask questions.
In the final artwork of the tour, attention was turned to Amy Sherald’s massive painting Precious jewels by the sea (2019), depicting a group of young, Black teens enjoying a day at the beach. The guide explained that Sherald chose to portray them in grayscale. This led to a conversation about comparisons between Sherald and Marshall (Our Town currently hangs on the adjacent wall to Sherald’s painting at Crystal Bridges). One guest noted that the faces of the teenagers looked solemn and serious, not playful as they would be on a beach. This led to a discussion about how Sherald portrayed First Lady Michelle Obama similarly in her National Portrait Gallery painting. The guide explained that Sherald is inspired by black-and-white photographs of Black families from the 1800s and this might have a tie to her choice of facial expressions in portraiture.
Virtual 3 in 30 Gallery Tour events are FREE with registration. For upcoming dates and times, see our Gallery Tour calendar, and join us on Wednesdays in February to explore Black artists in the collection in honor of Black History Month.