Now, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, the museum is honoring his contributions to the art world with The Bearden Project, an exhibit by 100 artists who have created works based on Bearden's signature collage style and other themes his work explored.
"It's a great way to pay tribute," said Lauren Haynes, the assistant curator for the museum who organized the project.
Regarded as one of America's premier artists when he died in 1988, Bearden's work touched on black life in the South, jazz and explored the role of artists in the Civil Rights Movement.
Also known as a scholar and author, Bearden's work dwelled on universal themes such as those found in the Bible. His artwork is found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of Art, among others.
The U.S. Postal Service recently unveiled a set of Bearden stamps in honor of the centennial.
The Bearden Project opened recently with 40 artists' work on display but will expand over the course of the year to 100.
Some of the artists in the exhibit knew Bearden personally, such as Faith Ringgold who is known for her painted story quilts. Her piece, "Bearden We Love You," celebrates his 100th birthday.
Bearden was also recognized for his role as a mentor for young artists. Other artists were inspired by Bearden's work when they attended his lectures while he was alive. Others simply studied Bearden and were enlivened.
The artists interpreted themes in Bearden's work such as jazz and urbanism, and of course, collage.
"There's something about collage that allows for a building on of the work," said Haynes.
Bearden would cut and paste photos, take pictures, and add layer upon layer to give his works a rich texture, she said.
Some artists took a literal approach while others were more figurative. Kerry James Marshall's "The Woman at the Window," is a more traditional Bearden-style collage. Marshall, who lives and works in Chicago, wrote that he liked the "controlled chaos" that he could create with a collage.
One of Bearden's most famous works, "Conjur Woman", was reinterpreted by Todd Gray's "Conjur Man" and Robert Pruitt's "Conjuring Woman."
On the more figurative side is Kori Newkirk's "Untitled" collage that is made with aluminum, steel, glitter, polyester, plastic and wires. Five cans, some with glitter inside, are attached to wires which are attached to a wall.
Nicole Miller's "Untitled" collage is a QuickTime animation that features Princeton professor Cornel West in a clip called "examined life" interspersed with an Al Green video "Tired of Being Alone," a Branford Marsalis song named "Seabreeze" that was featured on the album "Romare Bearden Revealed" and clips of dancers.
"When you look at everyone's work you see Bearden's impact," said Haynes.
The exhibit will continue to grow through the fall and winter 2011-2012 exhibition season. Select collages will stay at the museum through September 2, 2012, Bearden's birthday.