Appletree #3 - Denise Murrell

Wednesday 22 May, 16:00 – 18:00
(doors open at 15:45)
Rijksakademie Reading Room
Admission is free/open to public


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'I have some food in my bag for you
Not that edible food, the food you eat? No
I have some food for thought
Since knowledge is infinite, it has infinitely fell on me'
Erykah Badu, Appletree

In the 1997 track Apple Tree, Erykah Badu speaks of the infinity of knowledge that fell on her. The apples on her tree function as food for thought for those 'who want to be down'. Adopting Erykah Badu’s title, Appletree is a series of events curated by Vincent van Velsen that explores pitfalls within constructions of knowledge in relation to questions of identity, knowledge and the power to voice oneself. It focuses on the flaws and inconsistencies, awarenesses that have been laid on doorsteps, elephants that have awaited in rooms, and the all so necessary confrontations with blind spots, which have found their way into culture at large in the present. While there is an increasing awareness of the glitches in knowledge constructs and frameworks, it is also important to think beyond surface representations, which will not change nor fix anything if the systems that construct these remain in place.

The final encounter will be held on Wednesday May 22, with a lecture by Denise Murrell, curator of the acclaimed exhibition Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today at Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University in the City of New York (10/24/18–02/10/19), and curator of Black models: from Géricault to Matisse at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris (03/25/19–07/14/19).

Denise Murrell will introduce her ambitious and revelatory investigation of the black female figure in modern art. She investigates how changing modes of representing the black female figure were foundational to the development of modern art. She argues that the modernist painters portrayed the black figure as an active participant in everyday life rather than as an exotic 'other'. Denise Murrell explores the little-known interfaces between the avant-gardists of nineteenth-century Paris and the post-abolition community of free black Parisians. She reveals the 'black presence at the very center of the milieu in which Manet and the Impressionists circulated', a free black community whose ongoing influence Murrell traces throughout the modern era—by way of Degas, Henri Matisse, Romare Bearden, and contemporary female artists like Faith Ringgold, Lorraine O’Grady, and Mickalene Thomas, who have more recently drawn inspiration from these forgotten muses.

While black artists, in particular, have not failed to notice the profound significance of these histories, academics, it seems, have. Murrell found few Manet and Matisse scholars who had looked closely at the black presence in the artists’ work—aside from art historian Griselda Pollock, who wrote about Laure in her 1999 book Differencing the Canon. To fellow art historian T.J. Clark, Laure ultimately 'meant nothing'. Laure is the black female figure in Édouard Manet's Olympia (1863) whom, to Murrell, represents subjects that were absolutely 'central to modern life'— as much as issues of race, class, and gender that are still shaping the world today.

Denise Murrell is the curator of the Posing Modernity exhibition, and Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University.

Appletree is a public program at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, organized by curator and critic Vincent van Velsen.