A new exhibition featuring pioneering artist Mike Henderson’s rarely seen contributions to the history of contemporary painting and filmmaking, radical Black politics and to the story of California art opens January 30, 2023 at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of ArtUniversity of California, Davis
This ambitious exhibition is Mike Henderson: Before The Fire, 1965-1985, marks Henderson’s first solo U.S. museum exhibition in 20 years. He is a UC Davis professor emeritus for art. Henderson started exploring the role and responsibility of an artist early in his practice. His “protest paintings” — which he began while studying at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1965 — confront the anti-Black violence of the civil rights era. One of these figurative works. Non-Violence, 1967 — included inMike Henderson: Before The Fire, 1965-1985—was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1969, and in Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power San Francisco’s de Young Museum in 2019. Non-Violence Other large-scale works bridge the gaps between the past & present, challenging and resonating today’s audiences as America continues to struggle with systemic racism.
Henderson’s subsequent works offer new ideas about Black life and utopian visions in a unique visual language that merges abstraction, Afro-futurism and surrealism. In 1985, a fire in his studio damaged much of Henderson’s work from the previous two decades and partially obliterated these vital ideas about a time of tumult and change in California and the world. Henderson never returned to this subject again after the studio fire. Many pieces that were thought lost were recovered by the Manetti Shrem Museum, and now anchor this exhibition. A slideshow of destroyed artworks is included in the exhibition to illuminate dozens of paintings that were not able to be restored.
Henderson joined the groundbreaking UC Davis art faculty in 1970, teaching alongside Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Arneson, Roy De Forest, Manuel Neri and William T. Wiley. He was a teacher for 43 years, and had a profound impact on students. Henderson will participate in a featured conversation on January 29 with Gary S. May (UC Davis Chancellor), at a public open house.
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