- Painter, filmmaker taught at UC Davis for 43 years
- Noted contributor to history of radical Black politics
- Exhibition includes works thought lost, now restored
The Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art’s Winter Season Opening will be this Sunday (Jan. 29), free and open to the public, and featuring the debut of Professor Emeritus Mike Henderson’s first solo U.S. museum exhibition in 20 years.
AT A GLANCE
- WHAT: Winter Season Opening celebration
- WHERE: Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art
- WHEN: 2:30-5:30 p.m. Sunday (Jan. 29)
“Mike Henderson: Before the Fire, 1965-1985” will be on display through June 25. Catalog available. See box below for exhibition-related programming.
“Mike Henderson: Before the Fire, 1965-1985” brings to light the pioneering artist’s rarely seen contributions to the history of contemporary painting and filmmaking, radical Black politics, and to the story of California art.
The opening festivities will include a conversation between the artist and Chancellor Gary S. May, starting at 3:30 p.m.
Henderson started exploring the role and responsibility of an artist early in his practice. His “protest paintings” — which he began while studying at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1965 — confront the anti-Black violence of the civil rights era. One of these figurative works, Non-Violence, 1967 (included in “Mike Henderson: Before the Fire, 1965-1985”) was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, in 1969, and in “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” at the de Young Museum, San Francisco, in 2019.
Non-Violence and other large-scale works bridge the gap between the past and present, challenging and resonating with contemporary audiences as America continues to grapple with systemic racism and social justice issues.
Henderson’s subsequent works offer new ideas about Black life and utopian visions in a unique visual language that merges abstraction, Afro-futurism and surrealism. In 1985, a fire in his studio damaged much of Henderson’s work from the previous two decades and partially obliterated these vital ideas about a time of tumult and change in California and the world.
After his studio catastrophe Henderson never returned to this subject matter again. Many pieces that were thought lost have been recovered and restored by the Manetti Shrem Museum and anchor this new exhibition. A slideshow of destroyed artworks is included in the exhibition to illuminate dozens of paintings that were not able to be restored.
Henderson and UC Davis
Henderson joined the groundbreaking UC Davis art faculty in 1970, teaching alongside Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Arneson, Roy De Forest, Manuel Neri and William T. Wiley. He taught for 43 years and had a profound effect on students.
“We are thrilled to give Mike Henderson’s work the showcase and scholarly attention it so richly deserves,” said Rachel Teagle, the museum’s founding director. “‘Mike Henderson: Before the Fire, 1965-1985’ offers visitors an integrated vision of Henderson’s politically striking contributions to both painting and filmmaking at a critical phase of his career. With this exhibition, the museum fulfills one of its highest purposes: to recuperate the art of a major California artist who is central to UC Davis’ legacy.”
Sampada Aranke, Ph.D. ’13, co-curator with Dan Nadel, added: “Henderson’s visions of identity, race and art history help us understand his place in American painting and filmmaking in the late 20th century while asserting his relevance to the vanguard of contemporary art as well as our own historical present.”
MORE AT THE ART MUSEUM
“Mike Henderson: Before the Fire, 1965-1985”-related programs:
- The “Reckoning” in American Art History and Museums — A conversation among art historians and curators Bridget Cooks (UC Irvine) and Nana Adusei-Poku (UC Berkeley). Moderated by Stacey Shelnut-Hendrick, deputy director of public engagement and learning, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia. (Feb. 9)
- Death’s Futurity: The Visual Life of Black Power — Book launch and signing with the author, Sampada Aranke, co-curator of “Mike Henderson: Before the Fire, 1965-1985,” in conversation with Essence Harden, visual arts curator at the California African American Museum, Los Angeles. (April 20)
- Check the museum's website for further details and additional related programming.
Other exhibitions (both opened last fall and will be on display through May 8):
This story is adapted from a news release by Laura Compton, communication specialist, Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art.