BENTONVILLE, Ark. – The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse, organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, examines southern aesthetic and musical traditions of early 20th-century Black culture, influences now common throughout the American South and contemporary American art and culture. It will open at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on March 12 and continue through July 25.
In an immersive experience that engages multiple senses, The Dirty South spotlights the southern landscape through its musical heritage, spiritual complexity, and regional swagger. The exhibition features works of sculpture, paintings, works on paper, assemblage, textiles and music as well as ephemera from music culture, including instruments, music videos, costumes, lyrics and personal effects. Ultimately, The Dirty South creates an engaging opportunity to experience a deeper understanding of the African American South and its undeniable imprint on the history of American art.
This exhibition explores the relationship between music and visual art in Black southern expression from 1920-2020, highlighting a narrative of persistence and power. The sonic impulse is present in all musical genres including spirituals and gospel music to jazz, rhythm and blues to soul and funk through to the rise of southern hip-hop — a genre that gave new meaning to the term “dirty south.” Artists such as Sister Gertrude Morgan, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Sun Ra and CeeLo Green are featured through sound and personal effects.
The evolution of these musical forms also emerges in material culture featured in the exhibition including a SLAB, grillz, and stage costumes. An intergenerational group of visual artists including Beverly Buchanan, Alma Thomas, Bethany Collins, Minnie Evans, Kara Walker, Bill Traylor, Rita Mae Pettway, Sanford Biggers, Kerry James Marshall, Elizabeth Catlett and many more are placed in dialog with one another, weaving academically trained artists with “intuitive intellectuals,” or folk artists. The intersections enable viewers to see the varied approaches to material as well as a broad range of visual art expressions shaped across time and geography.
Visit the website of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and see its dedicated page for The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse.