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Syncopated Rhythms highlights music in African-American art

Art exhibition shows favorites of jazz impresarios George and Joyce Wein

Song of Myself, by Ernie Barnes. Oil on canvas.

Nearly a century’s worth of African-American art — largely created by and for music enthusiasts — is currently on display at the Boston University Art Gallery.

Syncopated Rhythms: 20th Century African-American Art from the George and Joyce Wein Collection includes 65 paintings, sculptures, and drawings from the collection of George Wein (CAS’50) and his late wife, Joyce, jazz enthusiasts and the founders of the famed Newport Jazz Festival. The exhibition, which opened November 17, marks the first time the collection has been shown publicly.

Curated by Patricia Hills, a professor of art history in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Melissa Renn, the Jan and Warren Adelson Fellow in American Art at the University and a doctoral candidate in the art history department, the exhibition covers works created over a 70-year period, from the late 1920s to the 1990s. Artists represented include Romare Bearden (SED’34), Miles Davis, Minnie Evans, Hughie Lee-Smith, Sister Gertrude Morgan, and William T. Williams.

The exhibition’s title refers to musical syncopation, “a shifting of the normal accent, usually by stressing the normally unaccented beats,” Hills writes in the catalogue. The artists represented from the first half of the century accomplished this in their art, she says, by showing images of African-Americans in everyday life and using folk-art techniques to create their pieces. The resulting body of work established an artistic tradition that, like jazz music, mixed European and African-American styles.

George Wein, a Boston native, has devoted his life to jazz; a former musician, he owned a Boston jazz club and formed his own record label, Storyville Records. In 1954, he created the Newport Jazz Festival, and in 1963, with the help of his wife and the musicians Pete and Toshi Seeger, he cofounded the Newport Folk Festival. Wein’s autobiography, Myself Among Others: A Life in Music, was published in 2004, and he was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship earlier this year.

Joyce Wein, also from Boston, attended Simmons College and wrote a jazz column for the college newspaper. She passed away in August 2005.

Syncopated Rhythms will be at the BU Art Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Ave., until January 22, 2006.