THE SIRENS' SONG by Romard Bearden, 1977.


Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey

Archived exhibitions are no longer available for booking but are maintained as a virtual record of past Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) programs.

Born in Charlotte, N.C., Romare Bearden (1911–1988) moved with his family to Harlem as a young child, part of the Great Migration of African Americans from the inhospitable 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 Black Odyssey, his 1977 series of 20 collages based on episodes from Homer's epic tale "The Odyssey".

CATTLE OF THE SUN GOD by Romare Bearden, 1977.In 2007-08, New York’s DC Moore Gallery restaged the original showing of the artist’s collages but included his watercolors (miniature variations of his collages), examples of his mid-1940s drawings based on Homer’s other epic, The Iliad, and other relevant work. Its show greatly increased the resonance and power of the original 20 collages.

Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey, a new SITES exhibition of intellectual and artistic heft, further expands DC Moore Gallery’s 2007-08 presentation. More emphatically than either earlier exhibition, 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, Cotton Field, invites the viewer to consider the artist’s Homeric collages not as rarified explorations of Western antiquity but as evocations of familiar seekers of a welcoming place to stay.

Serving as curator of this powerful new show is Robert G. O’Meally, Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. The latest publication of this prolific author, Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey, will be available for purchase by museum venues.

An ambitious program of talks, panels, and performances that explores many of the themes raised by the exhibition is envisioned to accompany the exhibition at each location.

>> Visit the Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey exhibition website and download the free apps for iOS and Android.


Exhibition specifications

Contents Approximately 50 works on paper (collages, watercolors, and drawings), text panels, labels
Supplemental Companion book, brochure, educational and promotional resources, two free apps for iOS and Android
Participation Fee $40,000 per 12-week booking period, plus prorated shipping
Size 300 running feet, est.
Crates 17
Weight 3211 lbs.
Category Art
Security High

$6,000, Prorated

SITES Contacts

Marquette Folley, 202.633.3106 (Content/design)
Minnie Russell, 202.633.3160 (Scheduling)

Tour Begins

October 2012


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Tour itinerary

Opening Closing Host Institution Status
10/13/12- 01/13/13 Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, NC Booked
02/02/13- 04/28/13 Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, TN Booked
05/18/13- 08/11/13 Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, TX Booked
08/31/13- 11/24/13 Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI Booked
12/14/13- 03/09/14 Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, Atlanta, GA Booked
03/29/14- 08/17/14 Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH Booked
11/15/14- 03/14/15 Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, New York, NY Booked


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Related publications

Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey
Full-color exhibition prospectus; Developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, 2009.

>>Free Download


Romare Bearden Exhibition Prospectus, 2009

Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey; DC Moore Gallery, 2008; $35.10; Hard Cover.

Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey is the first in-depth consideration of this artist's compelling collages since they were originally exhibited more than 30 years ago. The book proves to be a surprise to Bearden fans and newcomers alike. (Amazon review)


Book cover of Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey


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Press release

Media only: Lindsey Koren, 202.633.3122
Media website:

Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Offers Journey Through American Artist Romare Bearden’s “Black Odyssey”

" . . . all of us are on a kind of an odyssey. And I think this is what makes the story so lasting, so classic, and applicable to everyone . . ." Romare Bearden

In 1977, Romare Bearden (1911-1988), one of the most powerful and original artists of the 20th century, created a series of collages and watercolors based on Homer’s epic poem, "The Odyssey". Rich in symbolism and allegorical content, Bearden’s Odyssey 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. A new exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) represents the first full-scale presentation of these works outside of New York City.

Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey will debut at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, N.C., October 13, and will remain on view through January 13, 2013, before continuing on a seven-city national tour through 2014. Curated by renowned 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 University, the exhibition is organized by SITES in cooperation with the Romare Bearden Foundation and Estate and DC Moore Gallery. “Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey” and its related educational resources are supported by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

Born in Charlotte, N.C., Bearden moved with his family to Harlem as a young child, part of the Great Migration of African Americans from the inhospitable 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 "Odyssey" series. Bearden had examined classical themes before, but "Odyssey" 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.”

The Smithsonian exhibition features 55 works, including collages, watercolors and line drawings as well as additional compositions relating to Bearden's interest in classical themes. The exhibition examines his motivations in creating these works within the context of "The Odyssey" series and his overall body of work.

The exhibition is complemented by a fully illustrated companion book of the same name (DC Moore Gallery, 2008), written by curator O’Meally. The book features full-color images of Bearden’s work and an essay by O’Meally.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is one of the world’s leading international philanthropic organizations, making grants in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and medicine, and social welfare. The foundation funds organizations and projects that exhibit strong leadership and sound management and are expected to achieve a broad, lasting and positive social impact. The foundation also seeks actively to support projects that facilitate the formation of public-private partnerships as effective means for serving public welfare.

DC Moore Gallery represents a lively mix of more than 20 contemporary artists, and also offers the finest in 20th century American painting, sculpture, and works on paper, including modernism, ashcan, African American, regionalism, social realism, and mid-century abstraction. Founded in 1995, the gallery also represents Bearden’s foundation and estate.

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for nearly 60 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at                               
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Exhibition Specifications

Tour Itinerary

Exhibition Prospectus

Related Publications

Press Release

Full Exhibition Website

Totally FREE APPS!

Prelude to Troy by Romare Bearden, 1977. The Sea Nymph by Romare Bearden, 1977.
Calypso's Sacred Grove by Romare Bearden, 1977. Odysseus Meets his Father by Romare Bearden, 1977.
Circe by Romare Bearden, 1997. Cover for the Harvard Black Advocate Special Issue: Black Odyssey, A Search for Home, no. 4, 1974.

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