For Immediate Release
April 3, 2023


Williamstown, Massachusetts—On Tuesday, April 25, the Clark Art Institute’s Research and Academic Program hosts a talk by Kobena Mercer (Bard College/Clark Professor 2022–23), who reexamines the role of shadow and luminosity in works by painter Norman Lewis and photographer Roy DeCarava. The free lecture takes place at 5:30 pm in the Clark’s auditorium, located in the Manton Research Center.

Until now, Lewis and DeCarava’s black and white palettes have been understood only as referring to racial identities. This lecture argues for an interpretive shift that moves away from a representational inquiry (what does Blackness stand for?) towards a phenomenological one (what does Blackness do?). In the latter case, we begin to understand how these two African American artists mobilized abstraction in order to question the privilege of vision in modernism. While Lewis’ 'Black paintings' address the post-Hiroshima realities of atomic light, recurring subway scenes in DeCarava’s photographs point towards spaces of chthonic darkness as sites of fugitive possibility, a strand of Afromodernism that informs contemporary works by Ellen Gallager, Rashid Johnson, and others.

Kobena Mercer is a British art historian and writer whose scholarship cuts across the fields of art history, Black studies, and cultural studies. He comes to Bard from Yale University, where he was professor in History and Art and African American Studies and taught courses that examined African American, Caribbean, and Black British artists with critical methods from cultural studies. His groundbreaking first book, Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies (1994), brought a Black British perspective to cultural forms—ranging from hairstyles and dress to music and photography—that arose from the volatile transformations of the 1980s.

Free; no registration is required. A reception at 5 pm in the Manton Research Center reading room precedes the program. For more information, visit

The Clark Art Institute, located in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, is one of a small number of institutions globally that is both an art museum and a center for research, critical discussion, and higher education in the visual arts. Opened in 1955, the Clark houses exceptional European and American paintings and sculpture, extensive collections of master prints and drawings, English silver, and early photography. Acting as convener through its Research and Academic Program, the Clark gathers an international community of scholars to participate in a lively program of conferences, colloquia, and workshops on topics of vital importance to the visual arts. The Clark library, consisting of some 300,000 volumes, is one of the nation’s premier art history libraries. The Clark also houses and co-sponsors the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.

The Clark, which has a three-star rating in the Michelin Green Guide, is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Its 140-acre campus includes miles of hiking and walking trails through woodlands and meadows, providing an exceptional experience of art in nature. Galleries are open 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Sunday, from September through June, and daily in July and August. Admission is free January through March and is $20 from March through December; admission is free year-round for Clark members, all visitors age 21 and under, and students with a valid student ID. Free admission is also available through several programs, including First Sundays Free; a local library pass program; and EBT Card to Culture. For information on these programs and more, visit or call 413 458 2303.

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