ROBERT COLESCOTT (1925-2009) Master of Black Visual Satire
Robert Colescott in front of a billboard on the corner of Houston and Broadway, advertising his 1984 exhibition at Semaphore Gallery. Photo by David Forshtay.
Robert Colescott’s gaudily colored, densely packed, transgressive, cartoon-like paintings continue to garner surprising success. In 1997 he was selected to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in an exhibition that traveled to nearly a dozen American museums over the next three years. Posthumously, his reputation is about to soar even higher. Next week his painting George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook (1975) will go up for auction at Sotheby’s. It is expected to fetch between $9 – $12 million.
Colescott’s forte is satire and self-parody connected to his identity as a male African American artist. Using stereotypes, visual tropes, sarcasm, and puns, his work reveals life’s absurdities especially those that deal with race, sexuality and class. Rather than provide answers, Colescott’s paintings raise questions. They are easy to appreciate but as Richard J. Powell notes in his recent book Going There: Black Visual Satire, they have special appeal for the “satirically literate.”
Gallery 98 presents here a selection of gallery cards from Semaphore Gallery that represented Colescott in New York from 1981 to 1987. Although a generation older than the other artists that made up the gallery’s core, Colescott had six solo shows. Especially memorable was gallery director Barry Blinderman’s decision to rent a huge billboard on the corner of Houston and Broadway for Colescott’s 1984 exhibition.