The Contemporary Austin is pleased to announce the installation of artist Deborah Roberts’s outdoor public artwork, Little man, little man, 2020, at the museum’s downtown location, the Jones Center on Congress Avenue. This large-scale work (on view September 15, 2020 – Ongoing) represents both Roberts’s and The Contemporary Austin’s first outdoor mural, and is part of the artist’s upcoming solo exhibition, I’m, opening January 23, 2021.
Little man, little man, by Deborah Roberts (American, born 1962 in Austin, Texas), features collaged images of a young Black boy in various gestures of action, printed onto weather-resistant vinyl and installed on the Jones Center’s facade along 7th Street, adjacent to Congress Avenue. The work is titled after author and civil rights activist James Baldwin’s Little Man, Little Man, 1976, a children’s book articulating the joys and struggles of Black childhood through the adventures of a four-year-old boy in Harlem, New York. As Roberts noted, “I wanted these collage works to demonstrate the emotional, celebratory energy of this young child as he tries to make his way into adulthood without being targeted or criminalized.”
The mural is a key work in Roberts’s highly anticipated exhibition, I’m, opening in January—the Austin-based artist’s first solo museum presentation in Texas, which has received support from a 2020 Art Works grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Ford Foundation, and from individual donors from Austin and around the country. In addition to the mural, Roberts will present a selection of all new works, including collages, paintings, and an interactive sound, text, and video installation. The exhibition will be on view at the Jones Center from January 23 through August 15, 2021.
Says Chief Curator & Director of Curatorial Affairs Heather Pesanti, who organized the exhibition: “Deborah’s work is incredibly resonant on many levels, as evident in this outdoor public artwork centrally sited in the heart of downtown Austin, a few blocks from the State Capitol. With subject matter encapsulating the unique experiences and point of view of a young Black child in America, and a larger-than-life scale traversing the exterior wall of the museum, Little man, little man is both hopeful and powerful—not to mention an exciting preview of the artist’s solo exhibition opening at the Jones Center this winter.”
The young boy in Little man, little man is a complex, inviting figure: he displays an open, inquisitive face; playful yet wary body language; and vibrant clothing, including the bright blue and red details of his hooded sweatshirt, which invite the viewer to look closely and to acknowledge the child’s perspective and autonomy. Rendered at larger-than-life-size scale with the subject repeated through a series of six images with different poses and gestures, this major work extends Roberts’s mixed media compositions on paper and on canvas, which combine found materials—from photographs, magazines, literature, and the Internet—with hand-painted details. Critiquing notions of beauty, the body, race, and identity in contemporary society and American history through the lens of Black youth, Roberts’s works condemn the effects of racism on Black children while envisioning hopeful futures.
Although The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center (700 Congress Avenue) currently remains closed to the public in response to COVID-19, Deborah Roberts’s Little man, little man can be visited as an outdoor public artwork at the Jones Center (700 Congress Avenue), viewable on the exterior of the building along 7th Street.
The Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria (3809 W. 35th Street) is open to all visitors with advance ticket reservations. More information and tickets, as well as the latest updates regarding the reopening of the Jones Center, can be found at thecontemporaryaustin.org/visit.