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“Something Over Something Else” at the High Museum of Art

January 1 @ 10:00 am - February 7 @ 5:00 pm


On view through February 2, 2020

In 1978, Romare Bearden (American, 1911–1988) launched an autobiographical project organized by the decades of his life. The Profile series begins with Bearden’s earliest memories as a boy in North Carolina in the 1910s and concludes with his life as a young artist in Harlem in the early 1940s.

This exhibition draws its title from the 1977 New Yorker article that spurred Bearden to create the Profile series. Authored by Calvin Tomkins for the magazine’s “Profiles” section, the biographical essay, “Putting Something over Something Else,” was titled after Bearden’s own words describing the creative process. The experience of being interviewed for this article, and recounting moments stretching back to childhood, inspired Bearden to create his own word-and-picture elaborations on the decades of his life.

Bearden exhibited the Profile series at the Cordier & Ekstrom Gallery in New York—Part I in 1979 and Part II in 1981. For each collage, Bearden and his friend Albert Murray, an author and critic, co-wrote titles and short statements about people and places from Bearden’s past. When first exhibiting the works, Bearden hand-wrote these captions onto the gallery walls next to each collage, giving the “feeling of traveling through a personal diary,” as one reviewer described it.

We often understand our past as a series of events strung together, with beginnings, climactic moments, and conclusions. Bearden offers an alternative. With Profile, memories become singular events: a funeral, a comedy show, a neighbor gardening, a train ride at sunset. Bearden layers these separate moments, one on top of another, creating a collage, rather than a story, of his life.

“Something Over Something Else”: Romare Bearden’s Profile Series is the first reassembling of the Profile exhibitions. A majority of works in the series are brought together in their original order and exhibited with the text as Bearden first intended.

“I really think the art of painting is the art of putting something over something else.” ⁠—Romare Bearden


Born in in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1911, Bearden spent his early childhood living with his mother and father in the home of his paternal grandparents. After his parents relocated to Harlem, he returned for visits.

As a child, Bearden often visited his maternal grandmother in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during the summers. In 1927, Bearden left Harlem for Pittsburgh to attend high school, living with his grandmother in the boardinghouse she ran in the city’s East Liberty neighborhood.

Bearden’s early adult life was spent in Harlem where he was influenced greatly by the music halls, the working girls, and famous acts at the Lafayette Theater. Jazz becomes an important influence for Bearden during these years.




January 1 @ 10:00 am
February 7 @ 5:00 pm
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High Museum of Art Atlanta
1280 Peachtree Street
Atlanta, GA 30305 United States
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