Exhibition at Crystal Bridges features artworks gifted to the museum by Gordon W. Bailey

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Exhibition at Crystal Bridges features artworks gifted to the museum by Gordon W. Bailey
Purvis Young, Blues Musicians, c. 1990s, mixed media on wood, 48 x 46 x 1 1/2 in. (121.92 x 116.84 x 3.81 cm). Photo: Gordon W. Bailey Collection.

BENTONVILLE, ARK.- What I Know: Gifts from Gordon W. Bailey opens at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville AR June 26 and runs through October 11, 2021. The exhibition features artworks created with a variety of media by Leroy Almon, Thornton Dial Sr., Sam Doyle, Minnie Evans, Josephus Farmer, Roy Ferdinand, Bessie Harvey, Clementine Hunter, Joe Light, Ronald Lockett, Sister Gertrude Morgan, J.B. Murray, Sulton Rogers, Nellie Mae Rowe, Welmon Sharlhorne, Herbert Singleton, and Purvis Young.

The works are gifts from advocate, scholar and collector Gordon W. Bailey and reflect his decades-long advocacy on behalf of African American artists from the South. In the recent past, Bailey has gifted more than 500 artworks to American museums.

“Gordon W. Bailey’s generous gifts are a welcome addition to our collection,” said Rod Bigelow, Crystal Bridges executive director and chief diversity and inclusion officer. “We’re grateful to be able to highlight and celebrate this array of inspiring works by African American artists who have made important contributions to the American art historical canon.”

Crystal Bridges revealed plans in April to double the size of its facilities. The expansion, in addition to enabling the museum to better showcase its growing collection and welcome more visitors to experience the power of art in an inclusive environment, allows for more exhibitions, educational and outreach initiatives, cultural programming and community events.

What I Know is the result of Bailey’s ongoing collaboration with Crystal Bridges and marks the museum’s first accession of these artists’ works into its permanent collection.

The artists’ motivations and practices differ; some were moved by divine inspiration, some shared sociopolitical observations, or mined indelible memories, but all of the artists imbued their impassioned works with wisdom gleaned from lives well lived.

Exhibition highlights include: Leroy Almon’s Slave a carved-wood testament illuminating the history of enslavement in America; Thornton Dial Sr.’s Cocaine Dog a gritty metal sculpture of a drug-ravaged addict dragged behind a beast; Dr. Crow a house paint on tin roofing portrait of the Lowcountry root doctor by Gullah artist Sam Doyle, whose iconic portraits were collected by Jean-Michel Basquiat; Clementine Hunter’s poignant,1950s, oil painting Baptism; Ronald Lockett’s evocative contemplation Wolves Look Back; the subversive yet whimsical wood construction Haint House complete with 14 haints carved by Sulton Rogers; a near-seven-foot, recycled, oak door titled, Angola, Herbert Singleton’s bas-relief comment on the prison industrial complex; and large-scale works by Purvis Young including Angels Save the City, that speaks to struggle, triumph and divine deliverance.

Several superb works loaned by Bailey—those created by Evans, Harvey, Morgan and Rowe—add depth to What I Know.

According to Alejo Benedetti, Crystal Bridges associate curator of contemporary art: “Gordon's unwavering commitment to the accurate presentation of these artists has been essential to the success of this exhibition. More than just a donor or collector, through his persistent willingness to share his knowledge and time, he has repeatedly demonstrated what it means to be an artists’ advocate."

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