Black on Blonde

A black man crouches between the legs of a blonde, his tongue out, "How 'bout this?" scrawled above his head. She (a pink version of a Picasso-style African mask) answers, "My Mom's calling me!" If ribald interracial sex were all the African American Colescott (born 1925) delivered, his work might be dismissed as underground comix on canvas. But this student of Ferdinand Léger once watched Diego Rivera paint a mural, and politically charged figures (a wildly unpopular genre at the time Colescott matured, under abstract expressionism's hegemony) have filled his compositions with lush imagery ever since. Seven feet high, The Sphinx Speaks (1993) portrays men, women, and a skeleton in jagged magenta-and-black stripes. A small, naked white male whispers devilishly into the ear of black minstrel-like man who has huge white eyes, thick pink lips wrapped around a cigar, and is wearing a red-and-blue-striped tie that counterpoints a rainbow in the opposite quadrant of the canvas. Second Thoughts on Eternity (1991) includes a golden Anubis (Colescott once studied and taught in Egypt); a smiling, bearded white Godhead; a frowning, white-bearded black man; and, prominently, a chick with a dick. These complex paintings offer enigmatic tales to be unraveled and righteous polemics to be considered, while transcending their outrageousness with balls-out beauty.

'Ambroise Vollard: Patron of the Avant-Garde'

The French art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1867–1939) championed some of art's heaviest hitters: Cézanne, Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso. Highlights of work that passed through the French dealer's hands include a portrait of Madame Cézanne; her husband has painted her in a high-collared, tightly knotted gown the color of dried blood, her hair pulled severely back, her fingers stiffly entwined—less a muse than a goad. A particularly unhinged van Gogh night scene fixates on orange city lights striating black and blue water; a small, dark couple on the beach stares out at the viewer as if posing for a snapshot. Metropolitan Museum, 1000 Fifth Ave, 212-535-7710. Through Jan 7.

Detail of Robert Colescott's The Sphinx Speaks, 1993
photo: Courtesy of Kravets/Wehby Gallery, New York
Detail of Robert Colescott's The Sphinx Speaks, 1993

Details

Robert Colescott
Kravets Wehby
521 West 21st Street
Through November 11

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