It’s often the case these days that one’s pleasure at seeing an admired artist receive deserved recognition in the form of a museum retrospective is tempered by the way in which that effort is undertaken. Sometimes one’s disappointment involves only the omission of important, or favorite, works. On other occasions, however, it goes further, extending to reservations about the very way in which that artist is presented, about what we are asked to make of him.

This is very much the case with Romare Bearden (1912-1988), a retrospective of whose work was shown at the Studio Museum in Harlem last summer and is currently touring the country.[1] (It’s been Bearden season. Last month the ACA Galleries mounted its own Bearden show drawn from the artist’s estate, including the marvelous...

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