Romare Bearden Exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Romare Bearden’s vibrant mural-size tableau The Block (1971) and related sketches and photographs will be featured at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning January 15, 2010, in a small installation of works from the collection. The Block, an ambitious 18-foot-long collage, celebrates the Harlem neighborhood in New York City that nurtured and inspired so much of the artist’s life and work.

Romare Bearden (American, 1911–1988), “The Block”, detail, 1971. Cut and pasted printed, colored and metallic papers, photostats, pencil, ink marker, gouache, watercolor, and pen and ink on Masonite, 48 x 216 inches. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Shore, 1978 (1978.61.1-6). ©Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York , NY

Romare Bearden (1911–1988) is best known for the colorful cut-paper collages that he began making in the 1960s. Elaborate works such as The Block (1971) elevated this genre to a major art form through its unusual materials, expressionist color, abstracted forms, flattened shapes and spaces, and shifts in perspective and scale—all the while maintaining focus on the human narrative being told within a single city block.

Bearden described The Block in 1971: “…I was intrigued by the series of houses I could see from [the] windows. Their colors, their forms, and the lives they contained within their walls fascinated me. When I sketched this block, I was looking at a particular street [Lenox Avenue between 132nd and 133rd streets], but as I translated it into visual form it became something else. I lost the literalness and moved into where my imagination took me.” Bearden’s collage technique—a mixture of bold colors, large and small shapes, and diverse patterns—captures the energy of city life.

On view to the public for the first time are 11 of Bearden’s preliminary sketches for The Block, which reveal his close attention to architectural detail and human gesture. Also on display are two photographs of Lenox Avenue, taken in about 1971 by Bearden’s friend, the writer Albert Murray. The drawings and photographs were part of the 2005 bequest of William S. Lieberman (1923–2005), former chairman of the Metropolitan’s Department of Modern Art.

Romare Bearden’s The Block is organized by Lisa Messinger, Associate Curator in the Museum’s Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art.

In conjunction with this installation, audio commentary on Romare Bearden’s work will be available as a stop on the Metropolitan’s Audio Guide program. The Block will also be featured on the Museum’s website at

The opening of The Block is timed in anticipation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, January 18, when the Museum will be open for a Met Holiday Monday.

Romare Bearden’s The Block also coincides with the celebration of Black History Month, in February. The Museum will offer gallery talks about this work on the following days: February 3 at 2 p.m., February 11 at 10 a.m., February 18 at 3:30 p.m., and February 26 at 6 p.m.

A Celebration of Black History Month
February 2010

All programs are free with Museum admission unless otherwise noted.


Romare Bearden’s The Block
Opened January 15, 2010
Modern Art, first floor

This small focus-show from the Museum’s collection features Romare Bearden’s muralsize collage, The Block (1971), and a dozen preliminary sketches and photographs for this project that were recently given to the Museum and are being shown for the firsttime. As a group, they reveal the artist’s creative process whereby he literally and figuratively “collages” different images and experiences from reality and from his memory and imagination into a tableau that transcends the limitations of a fixed time and place, even as it pays homage to a specific street in Harlem, the New York City neighborhood that inspired so much of Bearden’s work.


Sweet Honey In The Rock
Friday, March 5, 7:00: $40
The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium

Sweet Honey In The Rock®, the internationally renowned a cappella ensemble, has been a vital and innovative presence in the music culture of communities of conscience around the world. Her repertoire is steeped in the sacred music of the Black church, the clarion calls of the civil rights movement, and songs of the struggle for justice everywhere.


The Audio Guide provides interpretive audio programming for both adults and families with children for a single, daily rental fee. An all-in-one player includes audio messages about selected objects in the African Art, Egyptian Art, and Modern Art Galleries.

The Audio Guide is available for daily rental: $7.00 for the general public; $6.00 for Museum Members; $6.00 for groups of 14 or fewer; $5.00 for children under 12; $4.00 for groups of 15 or more.

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