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Joseph E. Yoakum: What I Saw

December 11, 2021

Joseph E. Yoakum, Grizzly Gulch Valley Ohansburg Vermont, n.d.

Joseph E. Yoakum, Grizzly Gulch Valley Ohansburg Vermont, n.d. Black ballpoint pen and watercolor on paper. 7 7/8 x 9 7/8 inches. Gift of the Raymond K. Yoshida Living Trust and Kohler Foundation, Inc. Photo: Robert Gerhardt.

At age 71, artist Joseph E. Yoakum (1891–1972) began making landscape drawings of the places he had travelled to over the course of his life. “Wherever my mind led me, I would go,” he said. “I’ve been all over this world four times.”

“Joseph E. Yoakum: What I Saw” presents over 100 of Yoakum’s works. Drawn from memories, both real and imagined, his landscapes reveal a world no one has seen before or since: it is dense with swelling landforms, serpentine empty roads, and evergreen foliage, and almost always empty of people. The works reflect Yoakum’s religious faith and exploration of the tenets of Christian Science as much as they do his experience as a man of color in the United States over the course of the 20th century. He depicted events like major naval voyages and UFO sightings, and represented notable figures of African American history and culture in portrait drawings.

“Joseph E. Yoakum: What I Saw” provides a unique opportunity to see and celebrate the world as Yoakum did, and offers new discoveries about his working process, the development of his style, and the ways he imbued the living landscape with his shifting sense of personal identity.

"Joseph E. Yoakum: What I Saw" is open at The Museum of Modern Art through March 19, 2021

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