In the Hands of African American Collectors: The Personal Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey

"Exhibit" is such a static word for a collection like this one that really moves — artistically, historically, and emotionally. "In the Hands of African American Collectors: The Personal Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey" displays 90 pieces — art and artifacts — that reflect the growth of a nation and the journey of its people. The exhibit moves through time, first presenting historical documents and artifacts of the slave trade, personalizing the experience with such items as an 1854 letter that notifies slave dealers that the girl carrying the letter is to be sold to pay for new horses and stable. "She does not know... I couldn't tell her; I own all her family and the leave-taking would be so distressing that I could not." True to history, the first part of our journey through the exhibit is dark — the lights are low, the walls a deep burgundy — providing an atmosphere of dark contemplation. The rooms brighten as the journey does. The fiery red walls of the Civil War, Reconstruction and Civil Rights era exhibits deliver us into a victory of light in the present. Where the first half of the exhibit is heavily historical, the second half is a celebration of artistic achievement. Landscapes, such as the 1865 oil Landscape, Autumn by Robert Scottt Duncanson, demonstrate emotional resilience and artistic triumph. Works from the Harlem Renaissance — including paintings by William H. Johnson and sculpture by Richmond Barthé — and from the next generation, such as Elizabeth Catlett and Jacob Lawrence, bring us into a celebration of contemporary American art created by African-American artists. "No one can look at this and tell me this is 'Black art,'" says Bernard Kinsey. "You say 'African American' and an image comes up. You can't see if you can't see past it." Trust the vibrant abstract paintings of Bill Dallas, Ed Pratt and Alma Thomas to show you. (Through July 20 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-5196.)

 
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