MERTON D. SIMPSON’S “ENCORE,” A RETROSPECTIVEJune 7, 2011
Pioneering New York African-American painter, art dealer and jazz musician Merton D. Simpson is back (not that he went anywhere). “Encore!” May 17-June 30, 2011, review’s Simpson’s illustrious career via 25 paintings, tribal art and vintage photos, all on view in the Merton D. Simpson Gallery at 38 West 28th Street, reopened after a decade of relative inactivity. Simpson was a member of Spiral, the Harlem art collective founded in 1963 by Romare Bearden, and a friend and colleague of artists in post-war New York ranging from Emma Amos to Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning.
The exhibition, organized by gallery director Juliette Pelletier and Karen Tuominen, is designed to put the spotlight on the 82-year-old African art expert, collector and art dealer who is also an accomplished artist and seasoned jazz musician. The exhibition features six decades of work, including new paintings from the never-before-seen “Middle Passage” series, as well as Ab-Ex paintings from the 1950s, tribal-political artworks from the ‘60s and ‘70s, the “Jazz” series from the ‘80s and “Ancestral Improvisations” from the 1990s, collages using tribal hunting cloths.
Simpson was a lifelong portraitist as well, since stint in the early 1950s as an official Air Force artist, when he painted a portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower, now in the Pentagon art collection. His portrait subjects have also included Kofi Annan, Spike Lee and Oprah Winfrey. In 1984, he painted a portrait of the Reverend Daniel Jenkins, founder of the famed Jenkins Orphanage Band (whose members included Louis Armstong, Duke Ellington and Simpson himself), which now hangs in Charleston’s City Hall.
Merton’s paintings can be had for prices ranging from $7,000 to $60,000. The show has snagged at least one major museum acquisition (tba later), and the Studio Museum in Harlem is borrowing three works for its new exhibition, "Spiral: Perspectives on an African-American Art Collective," July 14-Oct. 23, 2011.