Romare Bearden (1911-88) spent more than 30 years striving to be a great artist, and in the early 1960s, when he took up collage in earnest, he became one. A small exhibition at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, organized to celebrate the centennial of Bearden’s birth, delivers this message with unusual clarity. It contains only 21 collages, all superb, in an intimate context that facilitates savoring their every formal twist and narrative turn, not to mention the ingenious mixing of mediums that takes them far beyond collage.
The works at Rosenfeld were made from 1964 to 1983. Some are not much larger than sheets of typing paper; others are more than four feet on a side. Their suavely discordant compositions involve both black-and-white and color photographs and occasional bits of printed fabric; almost all depict some scene of black life, past or present or imagined.