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Willie Birch is a New Orleans native and one of Louisiana’s most significant living artists. He first came to prominence for his papier-maché sculptures that depicted African American men, women, and children engaged in common activities and rituals. In 1993, a John S. Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Award brought him back to New Orleans, where he began producing the work he is best known for—large-scale, graphic drawings of African-American life ranging from the spectacular public gatherings—choreographed and impromptu—that define New Orleans’s cultural life to intimate individual portraits and images of the everyday. For Birch, his distinctive figurative style is founded “on deep knowledge of both the African roots of African-American culture, and the European painting tradition.” Beginning in 2000, Birch removed all color from his palette and has since then continued to explore and expand the possibilities of grisaille in bodies of work which, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, have been focused on the urban and natural landscapes of New Orleans.

In 2006, Birch co-founded the Porch Seventh Ward Cultural Organization, that would have a deep impact on the youth of this historical neighborhood, and he also founded the Old Prieur Street Project and Community Garden in 2015, which has engaged local artists, youth groups, and community members in the preservation of the culture of one of the oldest African American neighborhoods in the city. Birch has been the recipient of many awards and fellowships, including the Guggenheim Foundation, the Pollock Krasner Foundation, The Joan Mitchell Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was named the USA James Baldwin Fellow in 2014. Birch’s work has been included in numerous group exhibitions throughout the country and a survey of his work, Celebrating Freedom: The Art of Willie Birch, was organized by the Contemporary Art Center, New Orleans, in 20016 and travelled nationally.

Born 1942, New Orleans, LA

Lives and works in New Orleans, LA

EDUCATION

1973                 
M.F.A., Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore

1969                
B.A., Southern University, New Orleans, LA

SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2021                
Willie Birch, Kayne Griffin, Los Angeles, CA

2015                 
Seen and Unseen: Coupling, Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans, LA
Spirit House: Willie Birch, Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Wilmington, DE

2013                 
Southern Gothic: An Insider’s View, Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans, LA, Crossroads, Bard College for Curatorial Studies (thesis show by  Robin Wallis Atkinson)

2010                 
Looking Back: 1978-2003, Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans, LA, 
In Search of Sacred Place, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, LA

2006-8            
Celebrating Freedom: The Art of Willie Birch, National traveling retrospective (Catalogue)

2002                
Somebody’s Child, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Adams, MA, 
Transforming Identities, University Art Museum, Joel L. Fletcher Hall, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, LA

2001-02           
Willie Birch: 1994-1997, Zora Neal Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, Eatonville, FL

2001                 
Black Male, Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans, LA

2000                
Free to Be in Black and White and Color, Luise Ross Gallery, New York, NY 1999    

1998-99          
Transforming Identities, The McKinney Avenue Contemporary Museum, Dallas,TX (traveling) 

1998                 
Spirit House and Recent Work, Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Wilmington, DE

1997                 
Dialogues and Heroes, Museum of African American Art, Tampa, FL

1996                 
From Bertrandville to Brooklyn, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, NC (traveled to Spoleto Festival, U.S.A., Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC)
Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA
Not Just a Pretty Picture: Urban American Portraits, Satori Fine Art, Chicago, IL 
In Search of Heroes? Part I, Luise Ross Gallery, New York, NY 

1994                 
An Urban Perspective, Gallery Joe, Philadelphia, PA 
Dialogues, Luise Ross Gallery, New York, NY

1993                 
Spirit House, Sculpture Center, New York, NY (traveled to Contemporary Culture and Documentary Art, Dallas, TX and Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo, NY)
Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans, LA 
Paa Ya Paa Gallery, Nairobi, Kenya
“Nairobi Series", York College Art Gallery, New York, NY 

1992                 
A Personal View of Urban America, Exit Art, New York, NY (traveled to Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum, Philadelphia, PA)

1991                  
Affirmations, Sculpture Center, New York, NY

1990                
Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, PA

1988                 
Amelie A. Wallace Gallery, SUNY College, Old Westbury, NY

1984                 
Miami-Dade Library, Miami, FL

1979                 
Tim Blackburn Gallery, New York, NY

1978                 
NYS Office Building in Harlem Gallery, New York, NY (sponsored by Studio Museum) 

1977                 
New Muse Community Museum of Brooklyn, Brooklyn, NY 

1975                 
Art Works Gallery, Baltimore, MD
Institute of Black Ministry, Philadelphia, PA (traveling exhibition)

1968                 
Southern University, New Orleans, LA

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2021
Yesterday we said tomorrow, Prospect 5, New Orleans, LA (forthcoming)

2018                 
Changing Course: Reflecting on New Orleans Histories, New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), New Orleans, LA

2017-2018       
Dress Matters: Clothing As Metaphor, Tucson Museum of Art, Tucson, AZ

2017                 
Pride of Place: The Making of Contemporary Art in New Orleans, New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), New Orleans, LA

2016-17            
Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC and Speed Museum, Lexington, KY (traveling exhibition)

2016                 
According to What, The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College, USA, Saratoga Springs, NY
A New World in My View: Gifts from Gordon W. Bailey, The Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY

2015-16            
Common Ground: African American Art from the Flint Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, and the Muskegon Museum of Art (traveling exhibition)

2015                 
Ten Years Gone, New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), New Orleans, LA

2014                 
Viewpoints: 20 years of Adderley, MassArt (Massachusetts College of Art and Design), Boston, MA    

2013                 
Ashé to Amen, African-Americans and Biblical Imagery, Museum of Biblical Art, New York, Ashé Cultural Arts Center, New Orleans, LA (traveling exhibition)
Breaking Ground: Gifts form Katie and Drew Gibson, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA

2012                 
Thenceforward, and Forever Free, Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee

2011                 
The Human Touch: Contemporary Art from the RBC Wealth Management Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Saint Petersburg, FL (traveling) 
Printed Histories: 16 Years of Print Portfolios at Exit Art, Exit Art, New York

2010                
The Global Africa Project, the Museum of Arts and Design, New York

2009                
High Water Marks, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT.
There Goes the Neighborhood, Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, OH
The American Scene, Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Wilmington, DE 

2008                
Prospect.1 New Orleans Biennial, New Orleans, LA
In Katrina’s Wake, Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Austin, Texas

2007                
Katrina: Catastrophe and Catharsis, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, CO 

2006-07          
Legacies: Contemporary Artists Reflect on Slavery, New York Historical Society, New York, NY 

2005                
The Chemistry of Color, African-American Artists in Philadelphia 1970-1990, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
The Other Mainstream: Selections from the Mikki and Stanley Weithorn Collection, Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ

2004                
Rap: Reflections of Our Time, Barrister’s Gallery, New Orleans, LA 
Southern Journeys, Alexandria Museum of Art, Alexandria, LA

2002-04            
In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Smithsonian Institute (traveling exhibition)

2003                
Modern Story Tellers: Bearden, Birch, Lovell, Ringgold, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

2000               
Go Figure, Lew Allen Contemporary, Santa Fe, NM
The Rutgers SummerFest 2000 Exhibition, New Brunswick, NJ 
Culture of Class: Issues of Class in North American Culture, Maryland Institute, College of Art, Baltimore, MD

1999-2000       
Outward Bound: American Art at the Brink of the Twenty-First Century, Meridian International Center, Washington, D.C.; cultural exchange project traveling to Asia

1999-2000       
Passages: Contemporary Art in Transition, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY (travelling exhibition)

1998                 
New Orleans Triennial, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA
The Colors of Rhythm, The Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, LA

1996-98           
Rediscovering the Landscape of the Americas, Santa Fe, NM (traveling) 

1995                 
48th Annual Purchase Exhibition, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY

1992                   
Altars, Divinations and Icons, Painted Bride Art Center, Philadelphia, PA, 

1989                 
The Blues Aesthetic, Washington Project for the Arts, Washington, D.C. curated by Richard Powell, (Traveling) 

1989-90            
If You Lived Here - Homefront, Dia Art Foundation, New York, NY, curated by Martha Rosler 

1987-88             
USA Paintworks: Prints from the Brandywine Workshop Collection, United States Information Agency/Arts America (traveling exhibition)

1987                 
Por Encima Del Bloqueo, (Donación De Artistas Plásticos Norteamericanos Al Pueblo De Cuba) Centro Wilfredo Lam, Havana, Cuba
Camino A Cuba, Museum Universitario do Chopo, Mexico City, Mexico 
Contemporary Print Images: Works by Afro-American Artists from the Brandywine
Workshop, Presented by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITE) ‘
Call and Response: Art on Central America, curated by Lucy Lippard, Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME

1980                 
Outlaw Aesthetics, Just Above Midtown/Downtown, New York

SELECTED AWARDS AND COMMISSIONS

2014                 
United States Artists Fellowship, James Baldwin Fellow

2013                 
National Conference of Artists (NCA) Life Time Achievement Award
Artist in Residence, RedLine Milwaukee “Roll With It, Brass Bands in the streets of New Orleans”, Duke University Press

2012                 
Sculpture Commission, Jimmy Club Sculpture Garden, St. Ann, Louisiana

2011                 
Artist in Residence, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA)

2009                
Artist in Residence, École supérieure des beaux-arts de Nantes, France 

2008                
The Benjamin Altman Prize, National Academy of Design

2006                 
The Pollock Krasner Foundation Award
The Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant

2005                
Cue Art Foundation Fellowship

2004                
The Governor’s Award, State of Louisiana 

2002-4            
Artist in Residence, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation

2000               
Artist in Residence, Tamarind Institute, Albuquerque, NM

1997                 
Commission, Spoffard Juvenile Detention Center, Brooklyn, NY

1996                
Louisiana Division of the Arts Artist Fellowship NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority, Arts for Transit, (135th St/Lenox Ave) 
Commission, Philadelphia International Airport, Terminal A (Murals)

1995                 
Municipal Collaborative Project for Downtown Winston-Salem, N.C.

1994                 
Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture

1993                 
John Guggenheim Fellowship (sculpture)

1989-90          
New York State Council on the Arts National Endowment for the Arts Visual Art Fellowship 

1987                 
New York Foundation for the Arts Artists Fellowship Award

1985-86           
Brandywine Workshop Visiting Artist Fellowship

1984-85           
National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artist Fellowship Grant 

1983                
Commission, Public Art Fund, Inc., New York, NY

1980-81              
Artist in Residence, Henry Street Settlement, New York

1977-78             
Artist in Residence, The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY

1976                 
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Baltimore, MD, (Sculpture)

SELECTED PUBLIC COLLECTIONS

Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR
Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Wilmington, DE 
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Miami-Dade Public Library, Miami, FL 
New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA 
Southern University, New Orleans, LA 
Speed Museum, Louisville, KY
Temple University, Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia, PA
Tulane University Law School, New Orleans, LA
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Xavier University, New Orleans, LA

SELECTED PRINT COLLECTIONS

Bob Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, New York, NY
Tim Blackburn Gallery, New York, NY
Brandywine Workshop, Philadelphia, PA
The Lower East Side Printshop, New York, NY
Tamarind Institute, Albuquerque, NM
The Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper, New Brunswick, NJ