'Evolution of Sight’ Takes Flight
Floyd Newsum’s First Large-Scale Retrospective
UHD Professor of Art Floyd Newsum has taught at UHD for 47 years. He co-founded Project Row Houses in 1993. He has advocated for young artists and shined a light on social justice by building community around Black art and culture. His public art projects grace sites ranging from Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and Houston’s Main Street Square Station to UHD’s Commerce Street Building. His paintings and prints may be found in private collections, public museums, universities, and other public institutions across the nation, such as University of Maryland, College Park; Xavier University, New Orleans, Louisiana; Philadelphia Museum of Art; and our own Museum of Fine Arts Houston.
Now the prolific artist is receiving his first large-scale retrospective at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) in Madison, Wisconsin, from May 20 through October 8, 2023. Entitled “Evolution of Sight,” the exhibition will reflect on the artist’s entire practice, including his paintings and models of his 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.” (R: Newsum's “Reverend”)
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 UHD’s own Mark Cervenka, Professor of Art and O’Kane Gallery Director.
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 U.S.,” said Cross. “Newsum’s powerful message of hope transcends time and space and has remained relevant both historically and into the present. 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.” (L: Newsum's “Sigru 1619”)
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’s vivid canvases and often whimsical sculptures will soon fill the main galleries of the MMoCA. As he shares his symbolic works, centered on themes of spirituality, love, family, community, and culture, Newsum will inspire new audiences with his highly personal and unique “expression of the soul.”
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.