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BEST BET

Exhibit Explores Vibrant, Rich Past

June 13, 1993|EMILY ADAMS

Never mind that the announcement came to the dusty rolling hills of Texas more than two years late. On this day, the celebration is about the announcement coming at all: "All slaves are free."

It was Gen. Gordon Granger, Union Army, who finally brought the news to Texas on June 19, 1865, that all slaves were free. He didn't bother to add that President Abraham Lincoln had ordered the Emancipation Proclamation into effect on Jan. 1, 1863. That would have spoiled the fun.

In Texas, and eventually throughout the South, June 19th was celebrated by African-Americans every year as the moment of freedom.

Today, Juneteenth is being celebrated early by the Long Beach Museum of Art with the opening of "Alone in a Crowd: Prints by African-American Artists of the 1930s-40s."

This exhibition takes viewers back to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, the Great Depression of the 1930s and the federal Works Project Administration (WPA).

Most of the 106 prints, made possible by WPA stipends, are rare survivors because printmaking was considered a second-class art form and largely ignored by the art world.

In the prints, African-American artists explore their unique culture, which was still segregated from the mainstream. From expressionistic woodcuts to biblically influenced lithographs to reproductions of African textiles, the show is remarkable for its range of emotion and subject.

Consider the work of Margaret Burroughs and Elizabeth Catlett. Both women studied at Taller de Grafica Popular, a famous Mexico City print shop founded in the humanistic style of Diego Rivera, and their work is strongly grounded in political realism. Their women are strong and capable. One print shows a black woman organizing workers.

From there, go to Hale Woodruff's 1935 print, "View of Atlanta," kind of an expressionist blues portrait of a sturdy woman climbing crumbling stairs in heels. Then go to Dox Thrash's 1938 print "Evening Tide," with its roiling sky coming across the fields like a bad dream of the Apocalypse.

Linger for just a moment in front of Ernest Crichlow's 1938 print, ambiguously entitled "Lovers." Here is a young woman, her face turned to an unseen light, as if seeking a holy vision. Her face shows pain, but not fear. Yet the arms and fingers wrapped around her middle seem like claws, and out of the shadows in back of her, the figure that swims to the surface wears the peaked hood of the Ku Klux Klan.

Like many of the works displayed here, "Lovers" is not easily defined. There is no pigeonhole in which we can put this work away--and forget.

"Alone in a Crowd" opens today with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Long Beach Museum of Art, 2300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. The exhibition continues through Aug. 8.

Information: 439-2119.

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