“Black and tanned your whipped wind of change howled low blowing itself—ha—smack into the middle of Ellington’s orchestra Billie heard it too & cried strange fruit tears.”
WEST PALM BEACH — These words seem cryptic unless you see the piece of artwork with which they are associated: a black frame with a large circular peephole over a photograph of a slave covered in whip marks, or brands, in his flesh. The print is possibly from the 1860s, and the colors over it make the message of blood and violence clear. It’s a view into the unimaginable horror that was slavery, but in postmodern work.
The print is only one of a multitude at the Norton Art Museum in West Palm Beach, which currently features two collections of African-American art.
One exhibit is from the California African-American Art Museum, and is sponsored by African-American philanthropists Shirley and Bernard Kinsey.
Next to that exhibit, the museum features the Kinseys’ historical timeline of artifacts, highlighting Norton’s own African-American art collection.
The Shirley and Bernard Kinsey Collection is a reflection of the couple’s movement through life together.
A sign at the entrance of the exhibit says the work is “a trip backwards as they move forward, a constant reminder of those experiences which are, ‘natural, pure and good.’ ‘’
The Kinseys, who live in Los Angeles, have collected art for decades, building up a well-rounded experience for visitors.
In their artistic summary, they describe the assortment as, “historically important, culturally relevant and aesthetically valued.”
The exhibit at the Norton Art Museum runs viewers through the gallery in chronological order, historically reaching into the past to show artifacts and objects that work with the time.
The exhibit features a recorded narration accessible by cell phones from well-known actors such as Angela Bassett, Beverly Todd and Lou Gossett Jr.
In a large display, the entrance of Goree Island to the slave ships is replicated in life size, showing the smallness of the opening through which thousands of enslaved Africans would be transported to the Caribbean and America.
The letter called “A slave carrying her fate in her hands” from April 3, 1854 tells of a young slave girl who did not know she was about to be sold as a commodity for another commodity, so the owner could pay off his horses and build a stable.
Moving on into the Civil War era, the Kinsey collection summarizes the Civil War times in an organized representation of photographs from the 1800s, featuring well-to-do black couples and various African-American soldiers who fought for their own freedom throughout the war.
An exhibit in the hands of African-American collectors is a good representation of what the Kinseys consider the essential relationship between the artist, the patron and the museum.
They said they believe their ownership of the art is temporary because they are only taking care of the collection.
In their artistic summary, they say, “We’ve assembled our visions and interests. The next stewards may take it elsewhere.”
Both exhibits bring together a rich, dynamic, two-gallery combination of literature, mixed media and artwork that truly capture African-American iconography and artwork at its best.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: “In the Hands of African American Collectors: The Personal Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey” and "Highlights: African American Art from the Norton Collection"
WHEN: The Kinsey collection runs through July 20. The Norton collection runs through Aug. 31.
The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.
WHERE: The Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach
COST: $8 for adults, $3 for visitors between 13-21. Children under 12 are free.
CONTACT: www.Norton.org or 561-832-5196.