Colescott Meets Leutze Meets 2022
|Installation view of Robert Colescott's George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware at the Metropolitan Museum, New York|
The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, still several years from opening in L.A., has lent one of its marquee paintings to New York. Robert Colescott's George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware (1975), purchased by the Lucas last year, is getting focus show treatment at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It occupies a room adjacent to Colescott's source material, George Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851) by Emmanuel Leutze. If you stand in the right place you can see all of one and part of the other at the same time.
|Robert Colescott, George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook, 1975. Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles|
|Robert Colescott, Study for George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware, 1974. Nene Humphrey Collection|
The Met installation presents a preparatory drawing by Colescott with fewer figures. George Washington Carver is given the attributes of a test tube and a bag of peanuts. There are fewer figures, and Carver faces away from the stereotypes.
|Kara Walker, The Crossing, 2017. Collection of Neda Young|
Also on view is a large 2017 Kara Walker drawing, exhibited for the first time. Walker begun the drawing as a reaction to Donald Trump's inauguration. Washington/Carver is now Trump, wearing a paper hat and a mask. The composition melds Leutze and Colescott with Gericault's The Raft of the Medusa, John Singleton Copley's Watson and the Shark, and perhaps James Ensor's Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889.
A gallery label further connects the Colescott and Walker to Winslow Homer's Gulf Stream, normally shown in this space. Lacking in most of those precedents, however, is a sense of the absurd. Colescott and Walker leapfrog Leutze to an older Old Master conceit, the ship of fools.
A democracy is guided by a clash of voices. America was founded on the hopeful premise that the wise and humane will ultimately prevail. We're about to see how well that plays out in 2022.