Video: How it started: AJ Calloway asks Art in the Atrium founders
By Kevin Coughlin
Not bad for an exhibition that almost got tossed from a government venue in its early days.
“It was the year of Angry White Male. I thought they’d throw us out of the courthouse, never to be seen again,” said Viki Craig, who, with her husband, attorney Charles Craig, has created one of the country’s premier showcases of African American fine art.
She referred to a Russell Murray artwork from the late 1990s, depicting angry people flowing from a toilet, directed by a hate speech personality.
That didn’t sit too well with Morris County officials, she recalled.
And then there was the time she unknowingly included a piece that an artist had dedicated to someone who shot a police officer.
“The sheriff wanted to throw us out,” said Viki Craig, 70, a retired schoolteacher.
‘THESE ARE MY CHILDREN’
There was nothing remotely incendiary at Thursday’s gala, a scholarship benefit emceed by AJ Calloway of NBC Extra. The evening featured young dancers and violinists from the Morristown Neighborhood House, food by Martin Little Catering and The Artist Baker, and fanciful paper-and-acrylic collages by Barbara Bullock.
“This is my passion,” said Bullock, a 78-year-old Philadelphian whose works, collectively titled Ritual and Evocations, will be displayed through April at the museum in Morris Township. “I’ve always been creative. I always wanted to use art as my language.”
Bullock has found success: The African American Museum in Philadelphia, Rutgers University, Lafayette College and the Jane Voorhees Zimmer Art Museum are among institutions that have collected her works.
Yet she imparts the same message to aspiring artists at every school where she does residencies:
“Besides learning to paint, you need another job to support your art. It’s not easy. But it is the love of my life,” Bullock said, glancing at the collages hanging behind her. “These are my children.”
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. For captions, hover over images.
Collector Lewis Tanner Moore traveled from Bucks County, PA, to see Bullock’s works. “She has created her own blend of collage and painting and sculpture,” he said. “The language she uses is exquisitely sensitive and profound.”
“Barbara Bullock is a living legend,” said artist Bisa Butler, whose quilts have many fans. “To see what she does with paper is mind-blowing. When you are with her, you know you are in the presence of one of the great artists of the last century.”
With Inauguration Day just around the corner, the gala felt a bit like the calm before the storm.
Calloway, who has interviewed Donald Trump and Michelle Obama, got laughs when he reminded patrons of a vodka promotion at the gathering.
“There’s free vodka. Anybody’s upset about the farewell, there’s free vodka. Anybody’s upset about the press conference, there’s free vodka.
“There’s a lot more to come. Trust me, I know. There’s free vodka.”
Over the last 25 years, Viki Craig has learned that art isn’t always pretty.
“Sometimes, it provokes,” she said. “That’s what art is supposed to do. It’s been an interesting ride.”
Next year, the show returns to the Atrium Gallery, in the Morris County administration building in Morristown. Brace yourself, officials.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of angry art,” Viki Craig said.