Historic acquisition of 62 works of African American art made by Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
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Historic acquisition of 62 works of African American art made by Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Thornton Dial, "Lost Cows", 2000-2001. Cow skeletons, steel, golf bag, golf ball, mirrors, enamel, and Splash Zone compound, 76.5 x 91 x 52 in. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, museum purchase, American Art Trust Fund, and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation from the William S. Arnett Collection. Artwork © Estate of Thornton Dial / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo Stephen PitkinPitkin Studio, Rockford, IL / Art Resource, NY.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Max Hollein, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, announced today that 62 works by contemporary African American artists from the Southern United States have been acquired by the Museums from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta. This major acquisition from the Foundation’s William S. Arnett Collection was achieved through a purchase by the Fine Arts Museums and a gift from the Foundation.

“The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco house one of the nation’s greatest 350-year survey collections of American art, with the renowned Rockefeller Collection as its cornerstone,” says Hollein. “Accordingly, we feel a special responsibility to take the lead in expanding the representation of artists who reflect the historical diversity of American culture. This groundbreaking acquisition of contemporary art adds an integral—and exceptional—chapter to our signature collection of American art.”

Included in the current acquisition are paintings, sculptures, drawings, and quilts by 22 acclaimed artists, including Thornton Dial, Ralph Griffin, Bessie Harvey, Lonnie Holley, Joe Light, Ronald Lockett, Joe Minter, Jessie T. Pettway, Mary T. Smith, Mose Tolliver, Annie Mae Young, and Purvis Young. The history of the partnership between the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Souls Grown Deep Foundation dates back to 2006, when the Museums hosted the loan exhibition The Quilts of Gee’s Bend.

“Our collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco on this historic acquisition is at the heart of our mission to make the work of these African American artists from the South accessible to the public and scholars alike,” noted Maxwell L. Anderson, President of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. “As an advocate for these artists and their enduring legacies, our partnerships with major American museums are critical to ensuring that their contributions are woven into the greater narrative of art in America.”

In celebration, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco will debut the entire acquisition in a special exhibition entitled Revelations: Art from the African American South, opening June 3, 2017, at the de Young.

“While all these compelling objects embody universal human values, they are also powerful testaments to African American cultural resilience and survival,” notes Timothy Anglin Burgard, the Curator-in-Charge of American Art. “Originally created as expressions of personal identity and communal solidarity in the South during the modern Civil Rights era, they will now serve as catalysts to transform global art history.”

The cultural origins of these artworks can be traced back to the African Diaspora, slavery, and the Jim Crow era of institutionalized racism, which prohibited both physical freedom and freedom of expression for African Americans. Despite these barriers, in the segregated and comparatively safe spaces of churches and cemeteries, as well as in the fields and forests, African Americans created a cultural language that led to the evolution of distinctly African American musical forms such as gospel, blues, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll.

These rich musical traditions were paralleled by visual traditions that were often covert, symbolic, and metaphoric, in order to escape notice and censure. Working with little or no formal training, and often employing cast-off objects and unconventional materials, these artists have created visually compelling works that address some of the most profound and persistent issues in American society, including race, class, gender, and religion.

Only with the advent of the modern civil rights movement did these artists, visual traditions, and artworks fully emerge into public view, garnering new exhibition opportunities—and foundation, gallery, and collector support—as well as critical and popular acclaim. Rooted in the living history of the Jim Crow South but flourishing in the world of contemporary art, the works of these artists increasingly brought a unique perspective to bear on issues relevant to both the nation as a whole and the world at large.

Historically marginalized, patronized, or promoted with reductive terms such as folk, naive, or outsider, these artists have earned equal consideration in the history of American art. Put in the context of the larger American Art collection at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the works—which include some of the finest contemporary art created in the United States—have the potential to influence American cultural studies to more accurately reflect the nation’s historical diversity and complexity.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco will debut the entire acquisition of 62 objects in the special exhibition, Revelations: Art from the African American South, opening June 3, 2017 at the de Young. The objects will be installed in six galleries typically reserved for the permanent collection of American art, in symbolic recognition of their new role at the Fine Arts Museums. The exhibition will be curated by Timothy Anglin Burgard.

The introductory gallery will include a group of press photographs that document pivotal events in the Civil Rights movement, including the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama; the 1964 murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner; and the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee. The last gallery will include works representative of a pan-African sensibility in contemporary art, including: African American artist Robert Colescott’s A Taste of Gumbo (1990), which depicts a white woman sampling black food and culture; Ghanaian artist El Anatsui’s Hovor II (2004), which uses recycled aluminum bottle caps to comment on post-colonial economic and cultural exchange; and British artist Cornelia Parker’s Anti-Mass (2005), created from the timbers of an African American Southern Baptist church burned by arsonists.

A companion exhibition, drawn entirely from the recently acquired Paulson Bott Press archives, will feature prints by Lonnie Holley, as well as quilters centered around Gee’s Bend, Alabama, including Louisiana Bendolph, Mary Lee Bendolph, Loretta Bennett, and Loretta Pettway.

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