Chazen Museum of Art


Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey Comes to the Chazen in Fall 2013

July 2, 2013

“. . . all of us are on a kind of an odyssey. And I think this is what makes the story so lasting, so classic, and applicable to everyone.”—Romare Bearden

Madison, Wisconsin—In 1977, Romare Bearden created a series of collages and watercolors based on Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. Rich in symbolism and allegorical content, Bearden’s Odyssey series bridged classical mythology and African American culture. The series conveyed timelessness and the universality of the human condition, but was displayed for only two months in New York City before the works went to private collections and public art museums. An exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) represents the first full-scale presentation of these works outside of New York City. Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey will be on view at the Chazen from August 31 through November 24, 2013. The museum will also organize extensive educational and community programming in conjunction with the exhibition.

The Smithsonian exhibition features approximately 50 works, including the original collages as well as watercolors, line drawings, and additional compositions relating to Bearden’s interest in classical themes. The exhibition examines his motivations in creating these works within the context of the Odyssey series and his overall body of work.

“In creating a black Odyssey series, Bearden not only staked a claim to the tales of ancient Greece as having modern relevance, he also made the claim of global cultural collage—that as humans, we are all collages of our unique experiences,” said curator Robert G. O’Meally. “Indeed, Bearden does not merely illustrate Homer—he is Homer’s true collaborator, and he invites us as viewers to inherit Homer’s tale and interpret it as our own.”

Born in Charlotte, N.C., Bearden moved with his family to Harlem as a young child, part of the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to urban centers in the North. Throughout his career, Bearden created images of the lives of travelers on their way to and from home, a theme no more powerfully explored than in his Odyssey series. Bearden had examined classical themes before, but the Odyssey series expanded his exploration of literary narratives and artistic genres by presenting his own personal reinterpretation of the subject.

Exhibition-related programming
Sept. 5: Exhibition reception and curator lecture:
• 5:30 p.m.: Curator lecture, “We Are All a Collage: Romare Bearden, Toni Morrison, Duke Ellington,” by Robert G. O’Meally, Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University
• 6:30–8 p.m.: Reception with live music, refreshments, and a cash bar

Sept. 26, 7 p.m.: San Francisco–based Afro-Centric jazz musicians Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids, featuring Kenneth Nash and Heshima Mark Williams.
Presented with support from the UW–Madison Office of the Vice Provost & Chief Diversity Officer.

Sept. 28, 12:30–3:30 p.m.: Children’s collage-making activities with Helen Burish and Robert Elland, plus docent tours of the exhibition
• 12:30–2 p.m.: children aged 5–12 (2nd grade and younger should be accompanied by adult)
• 2–3:30 p.m.: children aged 13 and older

Oct. 5, 12:30–4 p.m.: A Chazen ART•SPIN Community Celebration – featuring live performances by local musicians and arts groups, hands-on activities, and exhibition tours. Schedule will be available at 
ART•SPIN events are presented for the Madison community with support from area businesses and organizations.

Oct. 26, 12:30–3:30 p.m.: A Chazen ART•SPIN Afternoon, with exhibition tours, music from 12:30–1 p.m. by Leotha Stanley and Friends, and at 1:30 p.m. a flipbook workshop with artist and animator Odalo Wasikhongo.
ART•SPIN events are presented for the Madison community with support from area businesses and organizations.

Nov. 2, 12:30–5:15 p.m.: “Romare Bearden’s Black Odyssey and the Quest for Self-Definition: A Symposium.” Sponsored by the UW–Madison Department of Afro-American Studies, the Odyssey Project, and the Chazen Museum of Art. Room L140, Elvehjem Building. Schedule will be available at

Nov. 7, 7 p.m.: Bridge Poetry Series. Invited Wisconsin poets read their original work inspired by the exhibition.

Nov. 14, 7 p.m.: Dramatic Readings. Patrick Sims and students from the UW Department of Theatre and Drama read excerpts from plays by August Wilson.

Drop-in docent tours, Thursdays, 4 p.m., from Sept. 12 through Nov. 21

Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey is curated by renowned English and jazz scholar Robert G. O’Meally, the Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature and founder and former director of the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University. A fully illustrated companion book, written by curator O’Meally, is available for purchase. The book features full-color images of Bearden’s work and an essay by O’Meally.

Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in cooperation with the Romare Bearden Foundation and Estate and DC Moore Gallery. The exhibition and its related educational resources are supported by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. © Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York.

The seven-city national tour began at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, N.C., in October 2012, and travels through 2014 to Memphis Brooks Museum of Art (Memphis, Tenn.), Amon Carter Museum of American Art (Fort Worth, Tex.), Chazen Museum of Art, Michael C. Carlos Museum (Atlanta, Ga.), Currier Museum of Art (Manchester, N.H), and the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery (New York, N.Y.). Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey and its related educational resources are supported by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

Generous local support for this exhibition has been provided by the Chazen Museum of Art Council, Dane Arts, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Digital images for media use are available upon request.

Media inquires contact: Susan Day, Editor, (608) 263-2068,, or Russell Panczenko, Director, (608) 263-2842,

The Chazen Museum of Art is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The museum is located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The main entrance is accessible to wheelchairs. Parking is available at the City of Madison State Street Campus Ramp (entrances on Frances and Lake streets) and under University Square. Hourly parking is available in the UW lot 46 with credit card payment. Evening and weekend parking is also available in UW lot 83 under Fluno Center, entrance on Frances Street, and in UW lot 7 under Grainger Hall, entrance on Brooks Street. The Chazen will provide sign language interpreters for associated programs by three-week advance request to Anne Lambert, Curator of Education, weekdays, (608) 263-4421 (voice). Information is also available by visiting our website at

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