Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey

November 15, 2014 – March 14, 2015

Cattle of the Sun God, 1977 The Sea Nymph Battle with Cicones, 1977 Poseidon, The Sea God Home to Ithaca Circe The Fall of Troy

Curated by Dr. Robert G. O'Meally, Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature

Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in cooperation with the Romare Bearden Foundation and Estate and DC Moore Gallery. The exhibition and its related educational resources are supported by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.


In 1977, Romare Bearden (19111988), one of the most powerful and original artists of the 20th century, created a cycle of 20 collages and watercolors (miniature variations of his collages) based on Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. Rich in symbolism and allegorical content, Bearden’s “Odysseus Series” created an artistic bridge between classical mythology and African-American culture. The works conveyed a sense of timelessness and the universality of the human condition, but their brilliance was displayed for only two months in New York City before being scattered to private collections and public art museums.

The Wallach Gallery showing of Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey will be not only the final stop of the Smithsonian traveling exhibition, but also the first time these works will be seen again in  New York City since they were created. Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey underscores the fact that this tale of the dislocated but heroic traveler's search for a way home is Bearden's own most pervasive and important artistic theme. The addition of a collage from Bearden's 1968 series, House in Cotton Field, invites the viewer to consider the artist's Homeric collages not as rarefied explorations of Western antiquity, but as evocations of familiar seekers of a welcoming place to stay.

The exhibition features some 50 works, including collages, watercolors and line drawings as well as additional compositions relating to Bearden’s interest in classical themes, such as examples of his mid-1940s drawings based on Homer's other epic, The Iliad. The additional works greatly increase the resonance and power of the original 20 collages and examine Bearden’s motivations in creating these works within the context of the “Odysseus Series” and his overall body of work.

For the Wallach Gallery presentation, singular materials will be added from Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, including a 1935 special edition of James Joyce's Ulysses produced by The Limited Editions Club. The book contains reproductions of 20 preliminary drawings and six etchings by Henri Matisse, who based his illustrations on six episodes in Homer's Odyssey. Several of Matisse’s original etched plates will also be displayed, allowing visitors to consider a related but very different artistic visualization of the Odyssey

The Limited Editions Club was founded in 1929 by George Macy, who endeavored to match classic texts with fine artists, creating distinctive volumes that became renowned in rare book circles. Visitors to the Wallach will be able to see the continuity of this tradition with the addition of the lush 1983 volume, Poems of the Caribbean by Derek Walcott, selected and illustrated by Bearden. Almost 50 years later, the Bearden-Walcott Limited Editions Club publication offers another yet another example of visual artists engaging the written word.

Born in Charlotte, N.C., Bearden moved with his family to Harlem as a young child, part of the migration of African Americans from the South to greater opportunity in the North. Throughout his career, Bearden created images of the lives of travelers on their way to and from home, a theme no more powerfully explored than in his “Odysseus Series.” Bearden had examined classical themes before, but the “Odysseus Series” expanded his exploration of literary narratives and artistic genres by presenting his own personal reinterpretation of the subject.

“In creating a black Odyssey series, Bearden not only staked a claim to the tales of ancient Greece as having modern relevance, he also made the claim of global cultural collage—that as humans, we are all collages of our unique experiences,” said O’Meally. “Indeed, Bearden does not merely illustrate Homer—he is Homer’s true collaborator, and he invites us as viewers to inherit Homer’s tale and interpret it as our own.”

Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey is curated by English and jazz scholar Robert G. O’Meally, the Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature and founder and former director of the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia. The exhibition is complemented by a fully illustrated companion book of the same name (DC Moore Gallery, 2008), written by O’Meally. The book includes full-color images of Bearden’s work and an essay by O’Meally. The Smithsonian Institute has also developed a comprehensive website for the exhibition project.


Free gallery tours Wednesdays at 1pm and Saturdays at 3pm (No reservations required)


Bearden Program
This exhibition at the Wallach Art Gallery is the focal point of a unique yearlong, University-wide exploration of Bearden’s iconic work. Accompanying the exhibition will be series of symposia, concerts, and readings to explore the Harlem-based artist’s translation of the ancient epic into a fiercely modern tale. What does it mean for all of us, as global citizens, to seek our way back home? Online registration is required for all Columbia University Programs. For program updates, details, and registration information please visit or call 212-851-9275.

Past Events: 2014-2015

September 19th – 20th
Questioning Aesthetics: A Symposium
Pratt Institute in collaboration with Columbia University
Engineering 307, Pratt Institute, 200 Willoughby Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11205

September 20th – 27th
Morningside Lights:
Odysseus on the A Train
Miller Theatre West, 116th Street and Broadway

September 26th, 3pm
The Sirens’ Song:
Women and Gender in Bearden and Homer
A discussion with Anjuli Kolb, Marcellus Blount, Rachael DeLue,
Helene Foley, Farah Jasmine Griffin & Brooke Holmes
Columbia University, Buell Hall, East Gallery

October 22nd, 5pm
Excavation of Homer:
A Poetry Reading by Alice Oswald.
Introduced by Mary Gordon
Stronach Center, 8th Floor Schermerhorn Hall, Columbia University

October 23rd, 6:30pm
On The Question of the Gods*
A discussion with Edward Mendelson, Richard Sacks & Andrew Szegedy-Maszak
Italian Academy, 1161 Amsterdam Ave. and W. 117th Street, Columbia University

November 16th, 3 - 6pm
Columbia Harlem Art Sunday:
MFA Open Studios and Special Gallery Hours
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery/Various Locations

November 20st, 6:30pm
Acting Homer:
A Staged Readingof the Odyssey
Actors include Richard Habersham, Ty Jones, and Devyn Tyler
Auditorium, Earl Hall, Columbia University

November 21st, 6:30pm
Inspired by the Classics:
A Poetry Reading by Rosanna Warren
Introduced by Mary Gordon
Italian Academy, 1161 Amsterdam Ave. and W. 117th Street, Columbia University

December 2nd, 10am
Improvisation in the Arts: A Symposium*
With Fred Moten, John Akomfrah, J. Kameron Carter, Danielle Goldman,
NourbeSe Philip and Matana Roberts
Low Library, Faculty Room, Columbia University
Special Gallery Viewing Hours for Attendees: 4-6 pm

December 2nd, 8pm

A Recital for Terry Adkins (2014)*
George Lewis with Ensemble Pamplemousse
St. Paul’s Chapel, 1160 Amsterdam Ave., Columbia University
Co-sponsored by Music at St. Paul’s

December 4th, 6:30pm
From Chios to 125th Street:
Toward a Black Odysseus*
A film screening and conversation with Krin Gabbard
Buell Hall, East Gallery, Columbia University

December 6th, 10am – 12:30pm
Tell Me a Story: Family Day
Readings of Bearden themed children books, interactive jazz music performances and family tours every 30 minutes!
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery/Stronach Center
8th Floor Schermerhorn Hall

January 19th – 20th
Paris Odyssey: Romare Bearden, Henri Matisse, Homer
Exhibition, Opening Reception, Panel Discussion, and Concert
Columbia Global Centers | Europe
Reid Hall, Paris, France
For more exhibition and program information,
please visit

January 28th, 6:30pm
Black Odysseys: Artists in Conversation
A panel discussion with Elizabeth Alexander, Marilyn Nelson, and Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Low Library, Columbia University

February 3rd, 7:00pm
Improvisation and the Moving Image: Artist on Film
A film discussion with Krin Gabbard and Diedra Harris-Kelley
Maysles Cinema, 343 Malcolm X Blvd

February 12th, 7:00pm
This Train…A Music Meditation on Romare Bearden
A performance by Geri Allen, Dwight Andrews, and the Vega String Quartet

February 14th, 3:30pm
The Bessie Smith Salon: From Bessie to Bearden
A panel discussion with Daphne Brooks, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Emily Lordi, and Robert O’Meally; Monica Miller, moderator. Cosponsored by the Barnard Department of Student Life
Diana Event Oval, Barnard College

February 20th, 4:00pm
Bearden and Lawrence: Migrations
501 Schermerhorn Hall, Columbia University

In coordination with The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Columbia University presents ten speakers, for ten minutes each, who will reflect on personal journeys or odysseys, black migration (both nationally and internationally), and the two great African American master artists of the twentieth century: Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence. Bearden & Lawrence: Migrations is inspired by the conjunction of Columbia's current exhibition in The Wallach Art Gallery, Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey, on view through March 14; and MoMA's forthcoming, new presentation of Lawrence's complete Migration series (1941), that will be on view from April 3, 2015 to September 7, 2015.

Robert G. O'Meally, Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Director, Center for Jazz Studies, Columbia University and curator of Romare Bearden: a Black Odyssey

Dexter Eugene Callender III, tenor sax, SEAS'17
Connor Lewis Duke, bass, CC'18
Dylan Kario, drums, CC'15
Columbia University Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program

Leah Dickerman, Curator of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art

Jodi Roberts, Curatorial Assistant, Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art

Mel Edwards, Artist

Robert Stepto, Professor of English, African American Studies, and American Studies, Yale University

Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor of English, and African-American Studies, Columbia University

Deborah Cullen, Director & Chief Curator of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Poet & Sound Artist

Clifford Owens, with Allana Clarke, Artists

February 21th, 10:00am
Romare Bearden’s “Odyssey” in a Global Age: A Symposium
Low Library, Columbia University

10:00 am: coffee and registration

10:30 am: Welcome by Robert O'Meally, Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English, Columbia University, and exhibition curator

10:45 am: Keynote by Edith Hall, Professor of Classics, King's College, London, and author of The Return of Ulysses: a Cultural History of Homer's Odyssey (2008)

11:15 am: Panel, with presentations by:

Temi Odumosu, Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow for EUROTAST, University of Copenhagen

Daniel Soutif, philosophy lecturer, art critic and exhibition curator, "The Jazz Century," Paris

Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz, Associate Professor and Section Head in the History of Art & Discourse of Art Division, Michaelis School of Fine Art, Cape Town, South Africa

Greg Tate, writer, musician, and producer

12:35 pm: Q&A

1:00 pm: lunch break

2:00 pm: Roundtable, moderated by Kellie Jones, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University. Featuring a presentation by Frank Stewart, Photographer and discussants, Charles Daniel Dawson, New York University-Gallatin, Columbia University-IRAAS; and Dianne McIntyre, dancer, choreographer, and teacher.

3:00 pm: Q&A

3:30 pm: Closing remarks

February 27th, 10:00am

Homer: Translation, Adaptation, Improvisation
A symposium with Francesco de Angelis, Ozlem Berk, Graeme Byrd, Karen Van Dyck, Helene Foley, Emily Greenwood, Dionysis Kapsalis, Justine McConnell,
Sheila Murnaghan, Patrice Rankine, Emily Wilson, and Nancy Worman
Low Library, Columbia University

March 6th, 8:00pm
A Hip-Hop Odyssey: The Improvisatory Genius of Mike Ladd and Jean Grae
A performance by Mike Ladd and Jean Grae with Farah Jasmine Griffin
Harlem Stage, 135 Convent Avenue

March 10th, 6:30pm
Improvisation in the Sciences
A panel discussion with Martin Chalfie, George Lewis, and Michael Shadlen
Earl Hall Auditorium, Columbia University

April 11th, 6:00pm
Unweaving the Core: Homer, Bearden & Us
A student celebration showcasing writing, art, music, puppetry, and a Bearden-esque staging of the Odyssey.
Hamilton Hall, Columbia University

April 15th – 16th
Blue Voyagers: The Art of Bedri Rahmi and Romare Bearden
Exhibition, Opening Reception, Panel Discussion, and Concert
Greek Consulate, Istanbul, Turkey. Cohosted by Columbia Global Centers | Turkey
For more exhibition and program information,
please visit


Smithsonian Institution Stavros Niarchos Foundation