Art exhibit highlights African American women

Published 6:47 pm Monday, June 10, 2019

Dim light highlighted abstractionist art by female African American artists on Friday, during the opening reception of Dancing on the Edge of the Abyss at the LaGrange Art Museum.

The exhibit is on loan at LAM from The Cochran Collection, and it is displayed along with retired Auburn professor Conrad Ross’ Laertes Shroud Drawings, which are also abstract. According to LAM Executive Director Laura Jennings, the exhibit is all about appreciating art and artists who are often ignored.

“It is abstraction art, which isn’t always mainstream,” Jennings said. “Then secondly, it is by African American women, who have fought the good fight to be exhibited in museums. It has not been easy for them, and so it is such an honor to be showing this exhibit.”

The works displayed come from a time when it was unusual to collect non-figurative — or realistic — art by African American artists.

“Abstract expressionism started in the late 40s and 50s,” said Wes Cochran, co-owner of the collection. “It was a white, male club. There were no women. There certainly weren’t any black women, so I just thought it was interesting.”

Jennings said that because many of the artists are personal friends of the Cochrans, she feels like the exhibit has given her a better understanding of them as well as the art itself.

“We lean toward abstraction, Missy and I, when we are collecting, and to have a body of this work is so interesting to me,” Wes Cochran said. “I just try to understand how these artists persevered doing abstraction, because the white galleries system, museum world was not interested in it either, and neither was the black community. They were not interested in abstract black artists, so somehow, these artists have maintained, and they are still doing it.”

Meanwhile, the museum’s second floor currently houses a series of drawings inspired by Homer’s Odyssey loop through their frames.

“It is especially wonderful that Conrad Ross continues to produce great art,” Jennings said. “Auburn University is so close to us, and it is just remarkable — a lot of his former students are here, and that is really exciting to see people come all the way from Auburn just to see and honor him.”

Ross said that the series of abstract drawings are something new for him, since his work is typically representational or realistic. However, Ross’ work nevertheless drew plenty of visitors to the second floor.

“There are 20 drawings here, and they were done in the last two years,” Ross said. “It really has to do with storytelling. They are abstract. They are the kind of works that you want to look at and wonder what is going on because there are tricks in them. You’ll find a point where you don’t believe your eyes.”

Dancing in the Abyss and Conrad Ross’ Laertes Shroud Drawings will be on display at LAM through Aug. 10, meaning that they will play an important role in the museum’s summer education programs.