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Vivian Browne: Africa Series 1971-1974

May 6 - June 25


RYAN LEE is pleased to announce Vivian Browne: Africa Series 1971-1974. The exhibition will include eight paintings and five works on paper from the Africa Series, a major body of abstract works by the prominent painter Vivian Browne. This pivotal body of work in Browne’s career followed a highly influential trip to West Africa in 1971. This will be the first time these works have been exhibited together since 1974. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Dr. Leslie King Hammond, who cites Vivian Browne’s Africa Series as an important example of the overlooked nature of Black American artists’ vast contributions to the development and establishment of modernist American aesthetics, as well as the omission of African influence from the mainstream art historical narrative in the United States. This will be Browne’s second solo exhibition and third overall at the gallery.

According to Dr. King Hammond, “Browne was a woman of her time and yet, in many ways— ahead of her time, with an inquisitive eye on the state of humanity.” Placed in the context of the post-civil rights 1970s, the uncompromisingly abstract African works stood at odds with prevailing ideas of what Black art “should” look like or stand for. “During the Civil Rights Era, one had to paint Black themes, Black people, Black ideas, I didn’t,” Browne explained. “I was painting my kind of protest, but it didn’t look like Black art…” Browne’s unflinching commitment to her artistic vision set her apart from popular contemporary “Black” aesthetics. A passionate civil rights and feminist activist and professor of Black art history at Rutgers University, Browne’s artistic and political principles and curiosity in the world blend into her work, reflecting her unique and authentic vision.

The vividly colored African paintings capture Browne’s experience of visiting an ancestral land that remains somewhat foreign to her as an African American person. Her stay on the African continent was an artistic breakthrough, and the powerful works she created upon her return to the United States marked a decisive shift to abstraction in her practice. Previously a more figurative artist, her Africa Series respond to the emotional responses she experienced during her voyages. “The expression was an abstract idea—not an abstract of a particular thing, but an abstract of a particular feeling, of a particular surrounding and an experience,” Browne explained. “The colors were much more heightened; the use of pattern was there because that was pervading everything that I saw or reacted to in Africa.”

Punctuated by the ubiquitous patterning Browne witnessed during her voyages to Nigeria, Benin, and Ghana, the paintings included in RYAN LEE’s exhibition range in scale and levels of abstraction. The explosion of intersecting patterns and abstracted tiles of color dominate the composition of the large-scale painting, Diversities (1973), and reference an effusion of sounds and patterning that Browne was exposed to in Africa. In contrast, The Gathering (1973) incorporates faces and animals, as well as references to masks and genitalia.

This fall, Browne’s works will be included in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition, Just Above Midtown: 1974 to the Present. Browne was included in the inaugural exhibition of this landmark gallery alongside prominent artists such as David Hammons and Camille Billops, among others.


May 6
June 25
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Vivian Browne
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515 W 26th St, 3rd Fl
New York, NY 10001 United States
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