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Robert Arneson Calling All Cops, 1989
Robert Arneson Election Time Again, 1992
Robert Arneson Yus White and Ugly Man, 1989
Robert Arneson Untitled, 1989
Robert Arneson Untitled, 1989
Robert Arneson Yas-Suh, 1990
Robert Arneson Rapist & Drug Dealer, 1989
Robert Arneson Chief Executive Officer, 1989
Robert Arneson District Manager, 1990
Robert Arneson District Manager, 1988
Robert Arneson Special Assistant to the President, 1989
Robert Arneson White Bread, 1989
Robert Arneson Black Goddess USA, 1989
Robert Arneson Symbol Doing Hard Time, 1989
Robert Arneson In Blackface, 1990
Robert Arneson In Search of The Elusive Yaa-Za, 1988
Robert Arneson Installation View
Robert Arneson Installation View
Robert Arneson Installation View
Robert Arneson Show Announcement
Robert Arneson Show Announcement (continued)

Press Release

Nearly 20 years after they were first exhibited, the George Adams Gallery is pleased to present "Robert Arneson: The Black Series, Selected Works 1988-1990."  First shown in 1990 at the Frumkin/Adams Gallery, Arneson's Black series is comprised primarily of paintings and drawings with a limited number of ceramic sculptures that unabashedly confront issues of racial stereotyping.  Contrasting larger than life images of African American men, many are derived from photographs taken from a Time Magazine cover article on 464 Americans killed by gunfire in one week's time, the works challenge negative stereotypes put forth by the media. Arneson wrote at the time, "My recent images of Black Americans in black and white about white and black, are hard looking - looking hard - confronting our perceptual awareness and attitudes toward the national dilemma - racism.

Works in the exhibition include Calling All Cops, a large-scale, mixed media portrait of a young African American male wearing a knitted cap.  The figure's face is overrun with a frenzy of brightly colored scribbles and scrawls, bringing to life an underlying psychic tension. Similarly, the painting Election Time Again portrays Willie Horton, a murderer whose story (and mug-shot) was appropriated by the George H. Bush campaign in 1988 and used against Michael Dukakis.  The show also includes the paired sculptures Rapist & Drug Dealer and Chief Executive Officer, the former represented by white male portrait bust and the latter characterized by a black male portrait bust.

The Robert Arneson exhibition will open on Thursday, November 8th and remain on view through December 30th.

In a related event, on Saturday, November 17th Professor Jonathan Fineberg, author of Strategies of Being: Art Since 1945 and Imagining America: Icons of 20th Century American Art, among other scholarly publications, will read from his forthcoming monograph on Robert Arneson. Please contact the gallery for further details.

The BLACK Series

Throughout his career, Robert Arneson fed off of events in his life or events taking place around him: the nuclear arms race, his cancer, his divorce in the early 70s (Assassination of a Famous Nut Artist was based on an angry drawing made by his son of Arneson being shot, stabbed and pierced by an arrow) and, in the Black series, the nature of stereotyping and prejudice. The Black series is not just about how Whites stereotype Blacks, but also about how even Blacks stereotype themselves, and, perhaps even more importantly, how Arneson felt about being perceived as a racist.

Robert Arneson was hard of hearing and wore hearing aids in both ears. One consequence of his deafness was in order to be heard you often had to shout at him and his usual response was to say "Yas suh." The allusion to slave and master was obvious and somewhat indicative of Arneson's sense of humor.  However, Mike Henderson, an African-American colleague in the Art Department at UC Davis was offended by Arneson's use of the term and asked him to stop saying it. As the story goes, Henderson had to make his request loudly so that Arneson would be sure to hear it, which Arneson did, and acknowledged by saying..... Henderson filed charges against Arneson with the University.  The Art Department at UC Davis became embroiled in the controversy and a split resulted, some siding with Henderson, others with Arneson.

The Black series is not about taking sides on an issue or expressing outrage, but rather about using images to provoke a thoughtful pause. Many of the images are of Black men who were shot to death in crimes - they were the victims, not the bad guys. One portrait, titled CEO depicts a rapper from the group Full Force - in reality a CEO, just not one recognized by Forbes Magazine. In several of the works (Tattoo Lullaby and Calling All Cops for example), Arneson incorporated lyrics from rap songs - violent and often degrading to Blacks yet written and rapped by Blacks - to remind us that one reason these images may elicit a stereotyped response is that the subject himself has purposefully provoked it. Why, Arneson asks, does this double standard exist? When Arneson quotes the lines "Don't call me Nigga, Whitey / don't call me Whitey, Nigga," in the piece "Simon 'n Rastus" (Collection of the Jewish Museum), he suggests that the issue is far more complicated and imbedded in our culture than we would like to admit.

The Black series is also a unique body of work in that it is almost entirely two-dimensional: of the 32 works in the series there are only seven, mostly small-scale, sculptures. For an artist who was primarily a sculptor it is quite a surprise that Arneson would turn to paper and canvas to express himself and do so in such depth. One reason was the speed with which he could work and the appropriateness of canvas and paper to the translation of the images. But whatever the reason, this body of work stands out, along with the Nuclear series, as a powerful example of Arneson's willingness to address complex social issues.

Main Gallery

1. Calling All Cops, 1989
Mixed Media on Canvas
72 x 53 inches
RAp 01
Source*: William Tillman; Time, July 17, 1989; page 47

2. District Manager, 1990
17 x 11 x 11 inches
RAs 173

3. Untitled, 1989
Mixed Media on Canvas
51 1/2 x 72 inches
RAp 03
Source: Ronald Cobbins; Time, July 17, 1989; page 48

4. Untitled, 1989
Mixed Media on Canvas
51 1/2 x 72 inches
RAp 04
Source: Anthony Peoples; Time, July 17, 1989; page 52

5. Chief Executive Officer, 1989
25 x 12 x 12 inches
Source: Raymond Price, San Francisco Chronicle

Rapist & Drug Dealer, 1989
25 x 12 x 12 inches
RAs 15

6. Yus White and Ugly Man, 1989
Mixed Media on Canvas
58 x 46 inches
RAp 11
Source: Gregory Ash; Time, July 17, 1989; page 40

7. Special Assistant to the President, 1989
Mixed Media on Paper
44 1/2 x 30 1/8 inches
RAd 17
Source: Willie Horton

Front Window

Election Time Again, 1989-1992
Plastic Enamel, acrylic, oil on canvas
36 x 34 1/2 inches
Rap 12
Source: Willie Horton

Drawing Gallery

8. In Blackface, 1990
Glazed Ceramic
14 x 12 x 7 inches
RAs 18

9. District Manager, 1988
Mixed Media on Paper
48 x 31 3/4 inches
RAd 73
Source: Raymond Price; San Francisco Chronicle

10. White Bread, 1989
Mixed Media on Paper
48 x 31 5/8 inches
RAd 18

11. Yas-Suh, 1990
Mixed Media on Lithograph
36 3/4 x 28 inches
RAd 75

12. In Search of The Elusive Yaa-Za, 1988
Mixed Media on Paper
34 3/4 x 48 inches
RAd 72

*Several of the images were derived from photographs that accompanied "Death by Gun," an article published in the July 17, 1989 issue of Time Magazine depicting 464 gun shot victims from the first week of May that same year.