“Hot Rhythm,” a major painting by Archibald Motley, has been donated to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Two of the artist’s heirs, Mara Motley and Valerie Gerrard Browne, have given the dynamic work to the Nasher in honor of Richard J. Powell, Duke’s John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History, and C.T. Woods-Powell.
Powell curated the standout 2014 exhibition Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist, which originated at the Nasher before traveling to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. (Read the INDY‘s 2014 cover story here.)
The exhibit covered the artist’s lengthy career, from 1919 until the 1960s, showing how he portrayed the turbulent twentieth-century African-American experience through a unique combination of realism and expressionism. Motley was already on the map of major black Modernists before the Nasher exhibit, but its tour raised the profile of his work to match the likes of Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden. Well over half a million people visited the show.
Painted in 1961, when Motley was seventy years old, “Hot Rhythm” will be on view at the Nasher later this month. It depicts a crowded Jazz Age nightclub scene in all its dynamic revelry, but it also subverts standard historical depictions of that time.
“‘Hot Rhythm’ is a good example of how Motley painted in an academically traditional way, but then improvised on that, had fun with it,” Powell says in a press release. “[It] portrays, literally, people of color—they have pink skins, magenta skins, they have blue-black skins. Motley knows the rules and breaks them to make a major modern artistic statement.”
“We are extremely proud to accept the gift of this dazzling painting by Archibald Motley, now recognized as one of the preeminent American artists of the twentieth century,” says Sarah Schroth, director of the Nasher Museum. “This acquisition is an endorsement of our program to champion works by artists of African descent, as we have since the museum opened in 2005. We fell in love with ‘Hot Rhythm’ while it was here during the Motley exhibition and now it’s come home. This painting is truly a crown jewel in our collection and a fitting tribute to Rick Powell, who brought well-deserved new attention to a great artist.”
This post has been updated with additional information from the Nasher on the painting’s donors and honorees.