The Currency of Meaning and Other Tales at The Wilmer Jennings Gallery at Kenkeleba House




Cynthia Hawkins, Plato’s Cave, 1989 Oil on canvas; 77 x 57 in. Image courtesy of the gallery

The Wilmer Jennings Gallery at Kenkeleba opened its doors to a beautiful collection entitled, The Currency of Meaning and Other Tales, an exhibition of abstract paintings created over more than sixty-years between 1953 and 2019.

Best described by the gallery, “The exhibition is a gathering of several abstract languages and practices, including Abstract Expressionism along with Geometric, Intuitive, Gestural and Minimal approaches. Many of the works presented, while being non-representational and “formed out of a process of self-exploration” are also works that relate to the African American experience, and that reference an Afro-Futurist aesthetic.”

Philip Hampton, Sky-in-What-Sky Blue, 1975; Acrylic emulsion on canvas; 46 x 46 in. Image courtesy of the gallery.

“Taken as a whole, in their use of line and shape, proportion and color, the artists in The Currency of Meaning and Other Tales convey important ideas. In themselves, the paintings demonstrate how drawn lines, marks and form can communicate with or without any association to representational imagery. The paintings are inspired by nature, the universe, social and political topics, history and science. “In their conception, the themes are coupled with powerful visual directions. The expansiveness of their forms is grounded in non-traditional as well as conceptual approaches to abstract drawing, painting, watercolor, and collage-based processes.”

Hale Woodruff, Blue Landscape, 1970; Oil on canvas; 49 x 37 in. Image courtesy of the gallery.

“A viewer may discern a seascape in Charles Alston’s Hudson River (1966) and the cityscape of Norman Lewis’ Untitled (1960), or Mildred Thompson’s reference to scientific research in Atmospherics (2003). For Alma Thomas, nature-based Color Field watercolors (1966) are an end in themselves. Algernon Miller’s Jupiter Effect from the mid-1970s, and his Dance of Light from 2019 illustrate an artist’s concentrated focus over 40 years. The symbolism within Hale Woodruff’s abstractions may be deciphered as a narrative. Beginning with his use of patterns in the 1950s, his paintings evolve as encoded oral histories and the physicalization of memory. In such series as Cynthia Hawkins’ Untitled (1989) large, colorful, expressionist works, the focus is strictly on color and composition that entice the viewer to find meaning. In Joe Overstreet’s The Navigator (2011), materials, technique and composition manifest in rich surfaces enhanced by radiant color. ”

Bambara Chiwara, ND. Wood, metal; 39 1/2 x 11 x 5 in. Image courtesy of the gallery

Kenkeleba House was founded in 1974 by Joe Overstreet, Corrine Jennings and Samuel C. Floyd to support African American culture. Kenkeleba began its work on The Bowery near Delancey in New York City with experimental projects to assist African American, Caribbean, and African artists in developing and documenting their work. Early projects included exhibitions and experiments with poetry, music, visual arts, workshops in dance, theater, children’s programs and African markets. The name, Kenkeleba is derived from that of the Seh-Haw plant grown in West Africa, and known for its spiritual, nutritional and healing values.

Al Loving, Untitled, 1981; Acrylic on canvas; 50 1/2 x 40 1/4 in. Image courtesy of the gallery.

It is an alternative art space, which includes Kenkeleba Gallery and The Wilmer Jennings Gallery. Its mission is to present, preserve, interpret and encourage the development of art by African Americans and the broader African Diaspora, as well as other artists overlooked by the cultural mainstream – Latino, Asians, Native Americans, including mature artists that have not received proper recognition.

Cynthia Hawkins, Untitled (Yellow, Pink, Orange), 1989; Oil on canvas; 77 x 75 in. Image courtesy of the gallery.

Central to the mission is the preservation of the visual aesthetic and cultural legacy of the African Americans and that of African people worldwide. Kenkeleba fulfills its mission by exhibiting, documenting, collecting art and artifacts and disseminating information to increase the appreciation of African culture from a global perspective. Kenkeleba provides opportunities, supports the pursuit of excellence, encourages experimental work, and improves the quality of urban life through the arts.

Charles Alston, Hudson River, 1966; Oil on canvas; 41 x 51 in. Image courtesy of the gallery

Kenkeleba programs are funded in part by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and many generous friends.

The Currency of Meaning and Other Tales will be on view to October 3, 2020 at The Wilmer Jennings Gallery at Kenkeleba, located at 219 East 2nd Street, NYC. Gallery open Wednesday through Saturday from 11:00am to 6:00pm.