Installation of “The Great Reckoning” And Mario Moore Art Talk at SPIA
“THE GREAT RECKONING”: Artist Mario Moore, who was in residence at Princeton University from 2018 to 2020, will return on Thursday, September 22 for an artist talk and celebration of the installation of his new painting in Robertson Hall in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. (Photo: Egan Jimenez)
By Donald Gilpin
Artist Mario Moore, in residence at Princeton University from 2018-2020, will return on Thursday, September 22, for a celebration of the installation of his painting “The Great Reckoning” at 4:30 p.m. in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
On long-term loan from the Popkin Family through the Princeton University Art Museum, the large oil painting depicts Moore’s third-great uncle, Thomas Moore, a Black Union Army soldier who fought in the Civil War. A parchment inscribed with Frederick Douglass’ 1863 speech urging Black men to take up arms to support the Union lies at the soldier’s feet, and on the opposite side of the canvas a white horse rears up with a Confederate flag on the ground under his hooves.
Moore, who also created “The Work of Several Lifetimes,” his portraits of Black workers on Princeton’s campus, during his time as a Hodder Fellow at the Lewis Center for the Arts, painted “The Great Reckoning” to “engage with the national conversation on race in the present and to contend with the legacy of the past,” according to SPIA Dean Amaney Jamal.
Explaining how “The Great Reckoning” grew out of the period leading up to the contested 2020 election and from his own search into his family’s history, Moore described looking into his family’s history through ancestry.com. An older cousin had a number of documents and knew of a family member who had fought in the Civil War. “The painting was really about the times we live in and a comparison to the election that led up to the Civil War, which was similar to the 2020 election that led up to January 6,” Moore said. “The Great Reckoning” was completed shortly before the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol.
Moore continued, “During that time period the nation was in such opposition, and a lot of the rhetoric that was being repeated was very similar to the rhetoric that led up to the Civil War. I wanted to highlight those moments and I wanted to talk specifically about Black Union soldiers contributions to winning the Civil War and also their contributions to the United States.”
In the distant background of the painting, Moore pointed out an American flag. “Right in the middle of the painting is an American flag,” he said. “It’s way in the distance because America is always about that dream, that hope, that potential to get there, that idea of democracy.”
A description of “The Great Reckoning” by the Princeton University Art Museum states, “The scale and virtuosic brushwork of this monumental canvas set it in the grand tradition of history paintings that stage events from the past as moralizing epics. Here, the artist invites viewers to consider the racial and regional divisions and contested histories that link our individual and collective pasts and present.“
Moore, 35, lives and works in Detroit. He received a BFA in Illustration from the College for Creative Studies in 2009 and an MFA in Painting from the Yale School of Art in 2013. In addition to the Hodder Fellowship, he has participated in a number of residencies and his work has been featured in many different exhibitions across the country.
In 2021 he had his first museum survey exhibition, Enshrined: Presence + Preservation, at the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit, and the show is currently on exhibit through October at the California African American Museum. After Thursday’s event at Princeton University, Moore will be flying back to Detroit for an artist’s reception for a new exhibition opening this weekend.
“I’m always thinking about the past and the present in my work,” he said. “It’s always about reflecting on the past so that we as a nation, and the people within that nation, can understand some of the damages that were done and the mistakes, so that we don’t have to repeat them. Somebody can come and notice something that they might not have thought of or seen before, to reimagine a new way of looking at whatever that issue is. That’s what I’m always interested in.”
Moore reflected on the idea of a “great reckoning” and the meaning of his painting. “I’m always hopeful because that’s all we have,” he said. “Hope is the way to move forward and imagine what can be possible. We are still in the midst of the reckoning. There’s a lot the nation is still dealing with and trying to get through it. At the time I was completing the piece, COVID was brand new and everything was all about death. That was just within the work, right there. And we’re still smack dab in the middle of everything.”
After his year-long fellowship in 2018-19, Moore stayed on at Princeton University for another year teaching an introduction to drawing class and an atelier class in collaboration with Imani Perry of the African American Studies Department. Returning to Princeton this week, he’s looking forward to catching up with old friends.
“My experience with Princeton was really about the people I was interacting with,” he said. In particular he mentioned people who became the subjects of his paintings: “Valeria [Sykes] and Hank [Towns] and people who worked on facilities and dining — some of the most amazing people I’ve met in my life. I still talk with them to this day.”
“The Great Reckoning” artist talk and reception will take place in 100 Arthur Lewis Auditorium, Robertson Hall of the SPIA, with remote access also available on Zoom through the Princeton University Art Museum with registration at artmuseum.princeton.edu.