For the first time in its 87-year history, the Frick Collection is presenting a solo exhibition dedicated to a color artist – the late portrait painter Barkley L. Hendricks. In September 2023, around a dozen works by the artist, best known for his life-size, life-size paintings of Black Americans, will hang alongside works by Rembrandt, Van Dyck and other European masters at the collection’s temporary home, Frick Madison.
The exhibition, titled Barkley L. Hendricks: Portraits, is being organized by Frick curator Aimee Ng and Antwaun Sargent, the influential director of Gagosian, who will serve as advisory curator. An illustrated catalog with contributions from creatives such as Kehinde Wiley, Derrick Adams, Jeremy O. Harris and Toyin Ojih Odutola will accompany the exhibition.
Hendricks was both an accomplished photographer and painter, and his keen eye and warm personality “made everyone feel like they were a photographer’s model,” according to Anna Arabindan-Kesson, assistant professor of African-American and Black diasporic art at Princeton University. This was translated through the portraits, which he often made from still photographs, with the friends and family members who were his subjects, dressed in the hottest fashions of the time, exuding pride and charisma on canvas.
There are similarities between Hendricks’ themes and those depicted by Old Masters, such as lawdy mom, a 1969 painting by the artist’s cousin, whose Afro hairstyle set against an arched gold leaf background is reminiscent of the early Italian Renaissance religious panels in the Frick Collection.
Similar in Hendrick’s impressive portrait of stevethe slight gradations of the man’s white trench coat and trousers can be compared to the detailed draping of garments in Jan van Eyck’s works, including The Virgin and Child with St. Barbara, St. Elizabeth, and Jan Vos. Meanwhile, a reflection of arched windows can be seen in the subject’s 1970s sunglasses, alluding to 15th-century Flemish painting.
In recent years, the Frick has left its traditional wheelhouse to present works by contemporary artists such as Salman Toor and Jenna Gribbons in the exhibition Living Histories: Queer Views and Old Masters. But the long-overdue inclusion of works by a wider variety of artists, and the political and social issues it poses, may anger some long-time visitors, the curators concede.
“There are traditionalists who believe that there is no place for artists of color because frick traditionally isn’t,” said curator Aimee Ng New York Times. But she added: “Our junior group is bigger than ever. That tells me we’re going in the right direction. I don’t want to alienate people who have been with Frick for 40, 50, 60 years. I want to bridge the historical collection and other art.”
Barkley L. Hendricks: Portraits at the Frick is on view at the Frick Madison from September 21, 2023 to January 7, 2024.
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