Basquiat, Purvis Young, Vodou flags at Tampa Museum of Art

Haitian Flags

By J.A. Jones, Staff Writer

TAMPA – “Ordinary/Extraordinary: Assemblage in Three Acts,” an expansive collection of work at the Tampa Museum of Art, offers the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in an array of differentiated visions from the African diaspora.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: One Master Artist / Two Masterpieces is only on view through Nov. 10, so you don’t have much time to catch the two works on display by this well-loved African-American imaginative painter, hailing from Brooklyn and the Lower East Side of New York City.

Basquiat, who was only 27 when he died of an overdose in 1988, left a body of work that evokes a folk-magic-mélange of influences. Seemingly-but-never-random (at least to him) phrases, names and numbers often grace his sometimes sparsely, sometimes densely layered abstract figures. His subject matter spanned musical and sports heroes to police brutality and social commentary.

The young Haitian American’s magical language, the urban-punk-hip-hop aesthetic is on view with two of his pieces, Yellow Door (1985) and Untitled (Word on Wood) (1985). As the subject of films, including Basquiat and the documentary The Golden Child, Basquiat’s almost-mythic status in the American imagination resonates loudly even through these two works.

In a glorious unveiling of Liberty City native Purvis Young’s prolific output, Purvis Young: 91, on view through Jan. 26, 2020, assembles a giant wall covered by dozens of the 91 works on exhibit.

Along with two of Young’s books-as-art-sculptures, the exhibit is a powerful and inspiring invitation to lose oneself in the immediacy and raw energy of Young’s output.

There is an ethereal beauty in Young’s swirling depictions of crowds, bodies and street life that seduce us to enjoy the massive display, even as we attempt to wrangle with the overwhelming scope of work.

It could easily take an hour to give careful focus to each work – experienced together it feels like we’ve received a profound blessing through the legacy of imagery left by this master-seer-artist.

The final room of the “three acts” evokes a sparkly cathedral of rich and haunting beauty offered in Sacred Diagrams: Haitian Vodou Flags from the Gessen Collection, on view through Jan. 26, 2020.

There is a spectacular attention to detail in the dense beauty of these ritual flags, or Drapo Vodou, some of which were created as far back as the 1930s, from “repurposed” burlap bags, silks, satins, ropes, beads, and sequins.

Usually displayed in Vodou sanctuaries or carried at the opening of a ceremony, themes involve and juxtapose images of saints, Vodou deities, and historical episodes, crafted to create glorious, festive pieces.

The exhibit was curated by Haitian artist Edouard Duval-Carrié and artists include Clotaire Bazile, Myrlande Constant, Mireille Delice Delisme, Silva Joseph, Dubreus Lherisson, Edgar Jean Louis, Antoine Oleyant, Yves Telemaque and George Valris.

The expansive creativity, imagination, ritual and mystery of “Ordinary/Extraordinary: Assemblage in Three Acts” is almost overpowering but also uplifting and exhilarating.  Studio@620’s founder and artistic Bob Devin Jones summed up the feeling the exhibit inspires: “I’ll have to come back.”

And while you may want to take this show in more than once, you’ll also enjoy the profound beauty even if you only make it over the bridge once. Don’t miss this exciting exhibit!

The Tampa Museum of Art is located at Cornelia Corbett Center, 120 W. Gasparilla Plaza in Tampa. Open Monday – Wednesday, Friday from 10-5 p.m. (fourth Fridays museum is open till 8 p.m.); Thursday from 10-8 p.m. and Saturday & Sunday 10-5 p.m.

For more information, call 813-274-8130 or 813-421-8380 (ticket line). You can also visit tampamuseum.org.

To reach J.A. Jones, email jjones@theweeklychallenger.com

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