Conversations with a Curator – Romare Bearden: Abstraction


On May 19, the AFA was pleased to host  a conversation examining the life and work of Romare Bearden to  elebrate the upcoming tour of the exhibition, Romare Bearden: Abstraction.

Though he was well-known for his collages, Romare Bearden’s full body of work is as diverse as it is vibrant. In this conversation, moderated by AFA Curator Michele Wije, we will examine just how instrumental his abstractions are to contextualizing his oeuvre. His abstractions are striking in their variety and scale, with the artist freely employing diverse techniques to realize his unique vision and creating works ranging from easel-size to nearly 6-feet tall.

Featured panelists:

Tracy Fitzpatrick | Director of the Neuberger Museum of Art

Tracy Fitzpatrick is director of the Neuberger Museum of Art, Interim Managing Director of The Performing Arts Center, and an associate professor of art history in the School of Humanities at Purchase College.

Fitzpatrick, who has been a member of the art history faculty for more than a decade, became chief curator at the museum in 2012 and its eighth director on November 1, 2014. She assumed the role of Interim Managing Director of The Performing Arts Center in March 2021; she will help to oversee The PAC until new leadership is appointed.

Fitzpatrick is responsible for the Neuberger Museum’s first in-depth study of the Roy R. Neuberger collection, When Modern Was Contemporary: The Roy R. Neuberger Collection, and has written, curated, and taught widely on American art of the 20th century. Her exhibition catalogs and books include Romare Bearden: Abstraction (2017); the 276-page, fully illustrated When Modern Was Contemporary: The Roy R. Neuberger Collection (editor; Neuberger Museum of Art, 2014); Hannah Wilke: Gestures, with Saundra Goldman, Tom Kochheiser, Griselda Pollock, and Hannah Wilke (Neuberger Museum of Art, 2010); American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s (co-editor with Thom Collins, essay by Michele Wallace, 2010); and Art and the Subway: New York Underground (Rutgers University Press, 2009).

Fitzpatrick earned her PhD in art history from Rutgers University, an MA in art history from the George Washington University, and a BA cum laude in art history and English from Tufts University.

Diedra Harris-Kelley | Co-Director of the Romare Bearden Foundation

Diedra Harris-Kelley is currently Co-Director of the Romare Bearden Foundation, the non-profit organization perpetuating the legacy of one of our greatest American visual artists. She offers a unique perspective on Bearden’s work being a formally trained painter, and niece of the artist’s late wife, Nanette Rohan Bearden, and acts as its chief researcher. For the last 10 years, she has been part of the team leading the foundation through a successful run of exhibitions, publications, educational and celebratory programs around the life and art of Bearden.

Harris-Kelley earned a BA from California State University, Long Beach, and an MFA from University of Michigan. She currently teaches a seminar course at Barnard College, and has taught studio art at New York University, Parsons School of Design Studio Program, and for alternative high school and elementary school programs; as well as conducted professional development workshops and lectures on art. She was a member of the curatorial team of Jazz at Lincoln Center from 2009 to 2012; and is the author of “Revisiting Romare Bearden’s Art of Improvisation,” published in Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies (Columbia University).

Harris-Kelley’s own artwork has been published, and recently shown in a solo exhibition at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Arts, Snug Harbor, Staten Island; and for the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Winter 2018 Postcard series, her entry “Playhouse Collage with Monk-118th St” highlighted Minton’s jazz club.

As a cultural leader she participated on committees with the Wallach Gallery of Columbia University, the Harlem Semester initiative of Barnard College, and the Harlem Cultural Collaborative that spearheads the Harlem Renaissance 100 initiative. She was also a founding board member of 5Plus Ensemble, a dance company promoting the work of older dancers.

Michèle Wije | Curator of Exhibitions, American Federation of Arts

Michèle Wije is the Curator of Exhibitions at the American Federation of Arts where she is responsible for organizing and managing several domestic and international exhibitions. As the Associate Curator of the Katonah Museum of Art, she curated groundbreaking shows including, Sparkling Amazons: Abstract Expressionist Women of the 9th St, Show and Bisa Butler: Portraits. Wije began her career in the Modern and Contemporary Art Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she specialized in twentieth century European Modernism with a focus on German art. She has organized several international loan exhibitions including the award winning, Glitter and Doom: German Portraits of the 1920s as well as Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century, Humor and Fantasy: The Berggruen Paul Klee Collection, Max Beckmann in New York, Marsden Hartley’s Maine, Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed, Obsession: Nudes by Klimt, Schiele and Picasso from the Scofield Thayer Collection and Lucio Fontana. On the Threshold. Michèle holds a PhD in Art History from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.




Romare Bearden: Abstraction is organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, SUNY.

The national tour of Romare Bearden: Abstraction is sponsored by Morgan Stanley.




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