PAFA'S Birth of the Cool Exhibition Enjoys Warm Reception in Philadelphia

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African Americans and elementary school groups are among the top visitors to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts' recent exhibition, "Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool." This exhibition is the artist's first career painting retrospective and is wrapping up a well-received run at PAFA.

“When you expose children to art, they grow up to be museum visitors and consumers of cultural arts - and in the best case scenario, museum patrons and major supporters.” Rosalyn J. McPherson, president of The ROZ Group.

A real-world testament to the power of community partnerships, Birth of the Cool – the first career painting retrospective of Barkley L. Hendricks – is wrapping up a well-received run at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). The exhibition reached new audiences, including church groups, fraternal organizations, K–12 school groups and families who took advantage of a new Free Sunday series. The last chance to see the exhibition is January 3, 2010.

To ensure that news of the exhibition was widespread, PAFA convened a Birth of the Cool steering committee comprised of African American community leaders who helped extend awareness throughout Philadelphia and surrounding areas. Direct mail, email and telephone outreach to affinity groups also played a major role in increased attendance by African Americans.

The museum also enjoyed a new presence in the online community. “The Cool School,” a short documentary about exemplary master painters who graduated from PAFA, was produced and distributed virally by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC). PAFA’s Facebook page carried frequent announcements about the exhibition and a Twitter page (@birthofcoolpafa) was established.

“The exhibition highlights Philadelphia’s reputation as a city known for nurturing and producing artists of the highest caliber – artists like Barkley Hendricks and his “Cool School” contemporaries whose compelling work has been successful in attracting new audiences to PAFA and to Philadelphia,” said Patricia Washington, Vice President of Cultural Tourism GPTMC.

Urban school groups are also among the top visitors to Birth of the Cool, lodging so many field trip requests that PAFA temporarily instituted extended museum hours to accommodate them. Students learned how artists respond to influences creatively, reflected on the notion of “cool” in Hendricks’ portraits, and explored his use of visual devices such as gesture, pose, symbols, and composition to tell “stories” about his subjects.

“It is quite significant that so many school groups – often comprised of children of color – have been in attendance,” said Rosalyn J. McPherson, president of marketing communications firm The ROZ Group. “When you expose children to art, you develop in them an appreciation for art as a means of communication and expression. These same children grow up to be museum visitors and consumers of cultural arts, and in the best case scenario, museum patrons and major supporters.”

A renowned American artist, Philadelphia native, and alumnus of PAFA (1963 - 1967), Hendricks is a seminal figure in the history of American portraitists whose work is uniquely situated at the crossing of American realism and post-modernism, walking a path between figurative artists such as Chuck Close and Alex Katz, and the conceptualism of African American artists like David Hammons and Adrian Piper. His pioneering influence appears in the work of younger generations of artists such as Kehinde Wiley and Rashid Johnson.

Best known for his stunning, life-sized canvasses portraying people of color from the urban northeast, it is through these cool, empowering and sometimes confrontational images that Hendricks explores the cultural complexity of black identity in the contemporary world. Variously he works from real life sitters and from photographs—he calls his camera his “mechanical sketchbook”— in a format that is reminiscent of images from fashion magazines and movie posters.

Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool presents 57 paintings from 1964 to the present, including works that he produced while a student at the PAFA. Along with his extraordinary portraits of other people, the exhibition includes paintings Hendricks made of himself, including the witty nude self-portrait Brilliantly Endowed (1977). Also featured are a number of porthole-shaped landscapes Hendricks painted in Jamaica, where he has traveled annually for the past 25 years to paint en pleine air (outdoors in natural light). This section of the exhibition is dedicated to Hendricks’ former Academy teacher, the late Louis B. Sloan.

"We are proud to represent the accomplishments of one of our most distinguished alumni, Barkley L. Hendricks. This is an exciting opportunity to reach out to the entire community, and to that end we are pleased to announce that we will waive admission fees on Sundays for the entire duration of this exhibition," says David R. Brigham, PAFA’s Edna S. Tuttleman Museum Director.

Birth of the Cool’s opening also launched the Academy’s “FREE Sunday Series,” designed to enrich and engage families and their communities by providing opportunities to learn and create together. The series includes free admission to PAFA’s exhibitions as well as activities like hands-on art making workshops, music and dance performances, lectures, video screenings, and storytelling that take place each Sunday at 2 p.m.

Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool originated at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in 2008, curated by Trevor Schoonmaker, and then traveled to the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Santa Monica Museum of Art. The exhibition will conclude at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (January 30 - April 18, 2010).

The exhibition is sponsored in part by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art, the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, and the North Carolina Arts Council with funding from the State of North Carolina.

Funding for the tour of Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative. Additional support is provided by an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 grant through the National Endowment for the Arts, the Edna W. Andrade Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation, StoneRidge Investment Partners, LLC, the Lomax Family Foundation, and Mr. & Mrs. Harold Sorgenti.

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is America's first school of fine arts and museum. A recipient of the 2005 National Medal of Arts presented by the President of the United States, PAFA is a recognized leader in fine arts education. Nearly every major American artist has taught, studied, or exhibited at the Academy. The institution's world-class collection of American art continues to grow and provides what only a few other art institutions in the world offer: the rare combination of an outstanding museum and an extraordinary faculty known for its commitment to students and for the stature and quality of its artistic work.

Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Academy is located at 118-128 N. Broad Street in Philadelphia. Admission to the Permanent Collection is Adults $10, Seniors & Students with I.D. $8, Youth ages 5-18, $6. Admission to Special Exhibitions (includes Permanent Collection) is Adults $15, Seniors & Students with I.D. $12, Youth Ages 5-18, $8. Admission is free for members and children under age of 5. Admission to Morris Gallery exhibitions is free.

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