Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, review

The Encounter at the National Portrait Gallery-review

The most powerful work in this section, Melvin Edwards’s Curtain (for William and Peter), a screen of dangling barbed-wire with a fringe of chains is rather thrown away by being hung out of sight of the show’s main drag and too close to the wall. If Edwards’s claim that he used the wire simply as “a linear material with kinks”, rather than as a metaphor for, say, social incarceration, isn’t quite believable, there’s a sense in this section of artists with very diverse agendas – that the show can only begin to start exploring – who have had a socio-political role forced upon them by the need to band together as “black artists” simply to get their work seen.

A section on Black Heroes, meanwhile, has been included, you might cynically conclude, to bring in works by “white” artists – Andy Warhol, with a late portrait of Muhammad Ali, and the voguish, but over-rated Alice Neel, with an image of painter Faith Ringgold. If we’re to have Warhol at all, why not his notorious Race Riot images of the early Sixties?

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