Longtime UHD Professor of Art Floyd Newsum Receives First Major Retrospective at Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

Co-Curated by The Huntington’s Lauren Cross and UHD’s Mark Cervenka

Style Magazine Newswire | 5/24/2023, 5:57 p.m.
Professor of Art at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) for 47 years and Project Row Houses Co-Founder Floyd Newsum is …

Professor of Art at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) for 47 years and Project Row Houses Co-Founder Floyd Newsum is presenting his first large-scale retrospective, Evolution of Sight, at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in Madison, Wisconsin, from May 20 through October 8, 2023. The exhibition is organized by guest curators Dr. Lauren Cross, Gail-Oxford Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts at The Huntington in San Marino, California, and Mark Cervenka, UHD Professor of Art and O’Kane Gallery Director.

Evolution of Sight will reflect on the artist’s entire practice, including paintings and models of public art commissions, such as sculptures and relief installations. With a career spanning nearly 50 years, Memphis-born Newsum invites viewers to look closely at his works to investigate the personalized signs and imagery he uses. Each work captures the deeply personal history of the artist with family photographs and symbols veiled by richly layered color and textures that create tactile surfaces. As Newsum explains, "My career covers 50-plus years of creating works of art that are exploring color, marks, and surfaces in various mediums. I call my evolution in creativity a problem-solving event of expression of the soul."

The exhibition is on view May 20 through October 8, 2023, in the Museum’s Main Galleries, with an opening reception May 19, 2023, from 5-8 p.m. Newsum will present an artist talk at 6 p.m.

Cross and Cervenka organized the exhibition by engaging in a dialogue that reflects on the depth and extent of the artist’s production. Rather than curating a traditional retrospective, Cervenka looked back to Newsum’s foundational pieces, and Cross is bringing attention to work made in the last few unprecedented years. This collaboration has resulted in a nesting exhibition of early works in conversation with the artist’s most recent series.

"Floyd Newsum is a leading artist whose work has been shown and represented in major institutions and collections across the United States," said Cross. "Newsum’s powerful message of hope transcends time and space and has remained relevant both historically and into the present. In this way, I am excited to connect Newsum’s dynamic work and practice with the Madison community through this survey of his work. The interrelationship between Newsum’s style over time: his past figurative works, public art career, and metaphorical abstract paintings all tell different stories that I believe visitors will connect with today. His productivity and ambition to create monumental work through a global pandemic showcases Newsum’s desire to reinvent new ideas and connect historical moments within our culture to the lived experiences of everyday people."

Cross’s curatorial practice delves into the untold narratives that are within an artist’s career and examines how they reflect back on our society. She approached Newsum’s work with a fresh perspective yet has been aware of his work for many years. Cervenka, on the other hand, curated an exhibition of Newsum’s work at UHD’s O’Kane Gallery in 2018 and is currently working on a book documenting the artist’s long career.

"A comprehensive museum exhibition of Floyd Newsum’s art is long overdue. With a career emerging from the heart of the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis in the 1960s, Newsum’s layered works have consistently included both overt and subtle responses to civil rights issues. Newsum’s father, one of the first African American firefighters in the South, set an example and provided the impetus for one of Newsum’s primary symbols in the form of a ladder," said Cervenka. "A bold often intensely colored palette, sometimes offset with collaged elements, provides a foundation both for works addressing broad cultural observations and those seeking the more intimate focus of spiritual awareness and a profound recognition of love and family."

Newsum has been a trailblazer in the field, breaking barriers in academia, arts institutions, and community engagement. As a co-founder of Project Row Houses, Newsum worked with James Bettison, Bert Long Jr., Jesse Lott, Rick Lowe, Bert Samples, and George Smith to build an integral part of the arts community in the Third Ward, using dilapidated row houses that were once modest homes for a rising affluent Black community. The co-founders established programs that not only support Black art and culture, but also build community. As part of the MMoCA exhibition, Newsum will engage Dane County–area youth and communities through Art Cart, MMoCA’s summer outdoor art-making program.

For more information, visit www.mmoca.org/events/floyd-newsum/.