“Something Over Something Else”: Romare Bearden’s Profile Series

In November 1977, The New Yorker published a feature-length biography of artist Romare Bearden by Calvin Tomkins as part of its “Profiles” series. The essay, titled “Profile: Putting Something Over Something Else” (using Bearden’s words to describe the creative process), brought national focus to Bearden, whose rise had seemed meteoric since the late 1960s.

The experience of the interview prompted Bearden to launch an autobiographical collection he called Profiles. He sequenced the project into two parts: Part I, The Twenties, featuring memories from his youth in the South and in Pittsburgh, and Part II, The Thirties, about his early adult life in New York. Bearden collaborated with friend and writer Albert Murray on a short statement to accompany each piece. These appeared scripted on the walls of the Profile exhibition to lead viewers on a visual and poetic journey.

This landmark volume reassembles and reconsiders Bearden’s Profile series. Beyond providing the opportunity to explore an understudied body of work, the project will investigate the roles of narrative and self-presentation for an artist who made a career of creating works based on memory and experience. It will also reveal Bearden’s gestures away from the autobiographical and toward a broader view.

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