Michael Rosenfeld Gallery (New York) presents Circle (1973) by Benny Andrews, a haunting, monumental painting confronting white myths about Black Americans, in particular men, that have perpetuated racial injustice in the United States. Circle is the third of six works conceived in view of the American Bicentennial in 1976. Afraid that national celebrations would omit voices from the Black community, Andrew’s created his “Bicentennial Series” to counter the heroic narrative of white exceptionalism with the trauma of lived experience that is as true today as it was in 1973.
About the Artist
Benny Andrews was an artist, educator and activist. He was born in Plainview, GA in 1930. Andrews earned a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1958. Soon after, he moved to New York City, where he would live, work and paint for nearly five decades.
Andrews co-founded the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC), which agitated for greater representation of African American artists and curators in New York’s major art museums in the late 1960s and 70s. He also led the BECC in founding a groundbreaking arts education program in prisons and detention centers. Andrews taught art at Queens College for nearly thirty-three years, beginning in the late 1960s. From 1982 through 1984, he served as the Director of the Visual Arts Program for the National Endowment for the Arts.
As a student in Chicago, Andrews developed a practice of incorporating collaged fabric and other material into his figurative oil paintings, a technique he would continue throughout his career. In addition to working in oil and mixed-media collage, he made sculptures, prints and drawings. He also illustrated several books written by his brother, the author Raymond Andrews, as well as many children’s books, including a biography of civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis. He continued his prolific output of artwork, which ranged from explorations of history and social justice to intimate depictions of friends and family, until his death in 2006.