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Romare Bearden's Odyssey

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If you're any kind of artist," Romare Bearden once said, "you make a miraculous journey and come back and make some statements in shapes and colors of where you were." Bearden (1911-88), whose extraordinary collages of magazine cut-outs, newspaper clippings, oil paint, and imagination have titles like Pittsburgh Memory, Midtown, Backyard, and Carolina Shout, did just that. "Every work in the show suggests place, some he had actually been to, others strictly from his imagination," says Ruth Fine, curator of The Art of Romare Bearden, opening September 14 at The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. But the fruits of Bearden's travels—which took him from the rural South to Pittsburgh, Harlem, Paris, and St. Martin—don't end with his colorful and moving works on paper. Over the course of 55 years, Bearden designed costumes and sets for dance pioneer Alvin Ailey, album covers for Wynton Marsalis, and opening credits for John Cassavetes; wrote more than 20 jazz compositions and countless poems; and inspired August Wilson's The Piano Lesson and Joe Turner's Come and Gone. This show of more than 130 of Bearden's works will prove it was all worth the trip.

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