The tension between [Romare Bearden] as an African American artist and Bearden as a universal artist infuses the mood of the exhibition. It is natural for African Americans to take pride in Bearden, and the District of Columbia, which has a majority black population, is touting the National Gallery show as the cornerstone of a 10-week cultural festival called "Blues & Dreams: Celebrating the African- American Experience in Washington."
Ruth Fine, the curator of the exhibition, cautions against labeling Bearden as a paragon of black experience. "Yes. Black experience is embedded in his art," she said at an opening day seminar at the gallery. "But so is all experience.... I think we have to meet Bearden on his own ground. To do less is to cheat Bearden and cheat ourselves."
A vital development in his art came in 1963, a month before the historic March on Washington. Several black artists met in Bearden's studio in July with the idea of renting a bus to take them to Washington for the event. Their trip never materialized, but the artists did form a group known as the Spiral with the intent, as Bearden put it, to discuss "the identity of the Negro, what a Negro artist is, or if there is such a thing." Floyd Coleman, an art historian at Howard University, insists that more than politics was on their minds. "Bearden and the Spiral," Coleman says, "should be looked on as shaping American modernist art."