Winfred Rembert's (1945–2021) deeply personal and visually striking art emerges from his experience growing up in the American South during the Jim Crow era and often celebrates his birthplace of Cuthbert, Georgia. The National Gallery of Art has acquired its first work by the artist, G.S.P. Reidsville (2013), a striking composition that sparks conversation about US history and engages with other works in the collection, such as paintings by African American artists Jacob Lawrence and Horace Pippin.
Rembert survived a near-lynching and seven years in the Georgia prison system, experiences that he documented in a recent memoir, Chasing Me to My Grave (Bloomsbury, 2021), which was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. After his release, and encouraged by his wife, Rembert used leatherworking techniques that he learned from a fellow prisoner to create autobiographical paintings with cut, tooled, and dyed leather. In G.S.P. Reidsville, Rembert illustrated his experience of working on a chain gang while serving time at the Georgia State Prison (G.S.P.) in Reidsville. The central panel depicts the chain gang working in front of the prison, while the enlarged surrounding figures collectively form an imposing frame. The pattern of black-and-white uniforms, black-and-orange soil, and red-and-brown sledgehammers creates a work of mesmerizing complexity. With its intricate division of space into numerous panels, the composition conveys to the viewer a sense of being trapped—much as the figures themselves are trapped.
Recent Acquisition Highlights
In 80 years of its existence the National Gallery of Art has amassed one of the world’s most significant collections of American and European masterworks of paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, prints, drawings, and photographs. Beginning with a selection of 126 paintings and 26 sculptures given by the National Gallery’s founder Andrew W. Mellon, the collection has grown to more than 145,000 works today.
The National Gallery’s treasures come from many diverse times and places of origin and each work of art in the permanent collection is a private donation, acquired either directly or with contributed funds. Listed below are some of the most important recent additions to the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art.
Winfred Rembert, G.S.P. Reidsville
Winfred Rembert, G.S.P. Reidsville, 2013, dye on carved and tooled leather, Gift of Funds from Glenstone Foundation, 2022.37.1
Winfred Rembert's (1945–2021) deeply personal and visually striking art emerges from his experience growing up in the American South during the Jim Crow era and often celebrates his birthplace of Cuthbert, Georgia. The National Gallery of Art has acquired its first work by the artist, G.S.P. Reidsville (2013), a striking composition that sparks conversation about US history and engages with other works in the collection, such as paintings by African American artists Jacob Lawrence and Horace Pippin.
Genesis Tramaine, Clinging unto the Lord
Genesis Tramaine, Clinging unto the Lord, 2021, acrylic, oil stick, oil pastel, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, and the Holy Spirit on canvas, overall: 182.88 x 121.92 cm (72 x 48 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, Purchased as the Gift of Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, 2022.30.1
Genesis Tramaine (b. 1983) creates expressionist portraits of men and women that combine vigorous handling of materials with intuitive, spiritual inspiration. The National Gallery of Art has recently acquired its first painting by Tramaine, Clinging unto the Lord (2021). Blending a provocative use of color with an urban-inspired, mixed-media approach, she describes her practice as focused on the shape and definition of the "American Black Face" and as using exaggerated features to capture the spirited emotions of the untapped, underrepresented souls of Black people.
Enlivened by New York graffiti from the 1980s and imagined images of gospel hymns sung Sunday morning during church, Clinging unto the Lord is typical of her recent work: head-and-shoulder portraits based on individual sitters or biblical figures and painted in a trance-like frenzy that can be compared to speaking in tongues. Tramaine's Christian faith informs all aspects of her practice, from prayers said before, during, and after painting, to evangelical titles and inscriptions on the tacking margins of her canvases, to small "spirit guide" figures depicted within the larger work.
Rashid Johnson, The New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club (Emmett)
Rashid Johnson, The New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club (Emmett), 2008, printed 2022, chromogenic print, Gift of Funds from Ryan E. Lee and Lee Group Holdings (LGH), Heather and Jim Johnson Fund, Kend Family Fund, and Peter Edwards and Rose Gutfeld Fund, 2022.36.1
Rashid Johnson (b. 1977) is a highly celebrated contemporary artist who explores African American themes and issues of racial, cultural, and gender identity in a range of media. The National Gallery of Art has acquired its first photograph by Johnson, The New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club (Emmett) (2008, printed 2022), which depicts two portraits of one individual (one inverted left to right from the other).
In 2008, inspired by Black middle-class clubs formed in the early 20th century to aid fellow African Americans as well as by Afrofuturist thinkers such as Sun Ra, Johnson invented a mystical secret society—The New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club. The name references the term "New Negro," coined by critic Alain Locke in 1925 to describe a rising generation of self-confident, assertive, and socially aware Black intellectuals. Johnson made a series of portraits from 2008 to 2009 that depicts the members of this fictional men's club.
This picture's title also refers to Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African American boy who was brutally murdered by white supremacists in Mississippi in 1955. The devastating photograph of Till's mangled body published in Jet magazine at the insistence of his mother may seem disconnected from Johnson's portrait of a well-dressed, well-groomed sitter. But this extraordinarily multilayered work offers yet another reference: the model's parted hair and goatee recall portraits of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, reputedly the most photographed man of the 19th century.
Thirteen Works by M. C. Escher
The National Gallery of Art holds the preeminent public collection of works—31 drawings and 400 prints—outside Europe by M. C. Escher (1898–1972), the master of optical illusion. Thirteen drawings recently given by Michael Schiffman in honor of Rock J. Walker fill chronological gaps, add new subjects, and provide additional context for several of the National Gallery’s prints.
Among the works included in this recent gift are the following highlights: sketches of a nude woman that directly relate to Escher’s early woodcut Seated Female Nude (1921); a delicate watercolor of a spider in its web that is one of only two known designs the artist made for ceramic plates; and several drawings of landscapes and sites that date to Escher’s early travels in Italy—an experience that remained a primary source of his artistic inspiration. Demonstrating his growing fascination with mysterious and disorienting architectural environments, Madonna del Parto, Sutri (1927) portrays the enclosed remains of the colonnade of a Roman era Mithraeum in white chalk on black paper to enhance the cave-like atmosphere of the temple space. Other drawings include two sketches of a woman’s hands (c. 1930) very likely modeled by Escher’s wife Guilietta (Jetta) during the early days of their marriage; the humorous Il Diavolo di Ravello (1931), which shows the devil dressed as a cleric and introduces what would become a recurring devil motif; three design sketches that document Escher’s mathematical approach as he worked out the geometries underlying his most famous visual conundrums in the late 1930s and early 1940s; and Symmetry 131 (1967), comprising black and white flower-filled pentagons and numbering among the 137 fully developed periodic patterns that served as a critical resource for his best-known works.
Fifteen Works by Edvard Munch
The National Gallery of Art’s collection of prints by Edvard Munch (1863–1944), with numerous examples assembled by Sarah and Lionel Epstein, is the largest and finest gathering of the artist’s graphic work outside his native Norway. The Epstein Family Foundation, which has donated some 119 prints by Munch since 1990, has recently given 15 more. Among the superb works in the latest donation are impressions of some of the artist’s major color woodcuts: Anxiety (1896), Moonlight I-II (1896, printed 1913), and Melancholy (Woman on the Shore) (1898). While these prints hauntingly convey the emotional states of angst and alienation for which the artist is best known, several others represent his fixation on the complex dynamics of male-female relationships. Among the highlights in this group are exceptional early black-and-white impressions of Munch’s iconic lithographs Madonna (1895/1897–1898) and Vampire II (1896); In Man’s Brain (1897), a rare color woodcut printed in vibrant red ink that depicts a nude woman in a cloud-like form above a man’s head; as well as both the color woodcut (1899) and an etched version (1902) of Encounters in Space.
William Christenberry, Memory Form II
William Christenberry, Memory Form II, 1997-1998, archival board, wood, encaustic, black paint, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Stephen Bennett Phillips in honor of Sandra Deane Christenberry, 2021.94.1
William Christenberry (1936–2016) is best known for his artistic exploration of place, in particular the Black Belt region of Alabama, where he spent his childhood in Hale County. Working in a wide variety of media, including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, and assemblage, Christenberry focused on architecture, abandoned structures, and nature, and he studied the psychology and effects of place and memory. The National Gallery of Art has acquired the sculpture Memory Form II (1997–1998), a gift from Stephen Bennett Phillips in honor of Sandra Deane Christenberry, the artist’s widow.
In 1968 Christenberry moved to Washington, DC, where he quickly became a revered teacher and mentor at the Corcoran School of Art. However, his art remained focused on the landscape and built environment of Alabama, where he would return each summer to photograph shacks and stores and to collect signs and other artifacts that reflected the spirit of the place. His efforts were not simply nostalgic. Christenberry had an eye for decay and was deeply aware of the dark history of the region, with depictions of Ku Klux Klan hoods occasionally appearing in his work. Memory Form II is somewhat unusual in the artist’s oeuvre. Rather than a detailed, realistic model of a particular building, it is a poetic evocation of a general type of structure common in the South—the so-called dogtrot house with a central breezeway, which –Christenberry has reduced in this sculpture to a mysterious opening. As a result of the artist’s patient application of encaustic and paint to wood, the sculpture appears almost tomb-like, encased in time and memory.
Hendrick Cornelis Vroom, A Fleet at Sea
Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom, A Fleet at Sea, 1614, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Albert and Madzy Beveridge, 2021.97.1
The National Gallery of Art has acquired A Fleet at Sea (c. 1614), a major painting by the Haarlem artist Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom (d. 1640). The first Dutch painter to specialize in seascapes and detailed portraits of specific ships, Vroom paved the way for later 17th-century marine painters with his lively, colorful, and harmonious compositions. A Fleet at Sea was featured in the 2018 exhibition Water, Wind, and Waves: Marine Paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. The National Gallery is grateful to Albert Beveridge and his late wife, Madzy, for their generous gift that has brought this important painting into the nation’s collection.
A Fleet at Sea portrays a historic event that took place many years before Vroom painted its likeness. A stiff breeze propels the billowing sails of a Dutch fluyt ship from the mouth of the Maas River onto the choppy waves of the North Sea. On the right side of the painting, the skyline of Den Briel, with its squat church tower, identifies the exact location of the scene. Vroom has also included several details that suggest that the heavily armed cargo ship in the foreground may be the Roode Leeuw (Red Lion), which left its home port of Rotterdam in 1597 for a well-documented voyage to the distant shores of South America and the Caribbean. The vessel’s figurehead is a bright red lion, and the flag of the province Holland (also with a red lion) appears atop the main mast. The inclusion of the municipal arms of Rotterdam on the red, white, and blue Dutch flag on the stern pole may be a nod to the Roode Leeuw’s home port. Research continues into a possible alternative identification of the ship as the Rotterdam-based Leeuwinne (Lioness), which rammed and destroyed Spanish galleys in 1602, an event that Vroom depicted in a 1617 painting.
Vroom’s extensive output in paintings and prints had a direct impact on the enormous popularity of marine painting in the Netherlands throughout the 17th century. His own sea voyages during the 1580s gave him a profound understanding of the architecture and rigging of ships, and of their interaction with wind and water in a wide range of conditions. Vroom’s career coincided with the dawn of Dutch global commercial expansion, and he received numerous lucrative commissions from shipowners, captains, and shareholders of the Dutch East and West India Companies.
Alfred Stieglitz, Untitled (Helen Kastor Fleischmann)
Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) is celebrated for the pioneering exhibitions of modern European art that he presented at his gallery 291 in New York between 1907 and 1917 and for his support of American artists. Photography, his greatest passion, was not only the medium he used to express himself, but also the touchstone he employed to evaluate art. Donated by the Clark Collection to the National Gallery, Untitled (Helen Kastor Fleischmann), c. 1917, is a stunning platinum/ palladium print that helps to expand our understanding of the evolution of Stieglitz's art.
Through the exhibitions he organized, the periodicals he published, and the example of his own work, Stieglitz played a central role in the acceptance of photography as a mode of artistic expression. He also championed the work of numerous American photographers from Gertrude Käsebier, Clarence H. White, and Edward Steichen to Paul Strand and Ansel Adams.
At the time Stieglitz took this picture, Helen Kastor Fleischmann, a wealthy cutlery heiress, was married to Leon Fleischmann, a poet and one of the many artists, writers, musicians, and intellectuals who frequented Stieglitz’s gallery; she later married James Joyce’s son, Giorgio. Although Stieglitz described her in a 1917 letter to Georgia O’Keeffe as “pretty, vivacious,” he chose to focus on Fleischmann’s hands and legs rather than on her face. Most likely made in 1917, the picture is an early example of Stieglitz’s radical rethinking of the nature of a photographic portrait. Inspired by Auguste Rodin, Marius DeZayas, Francis Picabia, and other modernist artists, Stieglitz realized that a portrait need not capture a subject’s face but could allude to their character by portraying other elements of their body, or even abstract attributes. This was an idea he explored further in his portraits of O’Keeffe and others made from 1918 through the early 1920s.
After his death in 1946, his widow, O’Keeffe, assembled the foremost collection of his photographs and donated it to the National Gallery in 1949 and 1980. Numbering more than 1,600 pictures, the Key Set includes one print of every mounted photograph in Stieglitz’s possession at the time of his death. If there were different kinds of prints made from the same negative—platinum, palladium, gelatin silver, photogravure, or carbon—or different croppings, O’Keeffe put the finest examples of each into the Key Set.
The Key Set is an exceptional and unrivaled collection of Stieglitz’s art, but he did not always save a print of every photograph he made. In a few rare instances, important pictures have emerged that were not represented in the National Gallery’s collection, such as Untitled (Helen Kastor Fleischmann).
Thirteen Works by Robert Adams
For more than 50 years, Robert Adams (b. 1937) has made compelling and provocative photographs that show us the wonder and fragility of the American landscape, its inherent beauty, and the inadequacy of our response to it. Working in Colorado, California, and Oregon from the 1960s to the present, he has photographed a wide variety of subjects, including suburban sprawl, strip malls, highways, homes, and stores, as well as the land itself and the ravages we have inflicted on it. In honor of American Silence: The Photographs of Robert Adams (May 29–October 2, 2022), Robert and Kerstin Adams have given the National Gallery of Art 13 photographs, all of which are featured in the exhibition.
Highly influential, Adams’ pictures have inspired countless younger photographers to advocate for responsible environmental stewardship. Combining hope and despair, the photographs in this gift show his remarkable ability to capture both the devastation we have inflicted on the land and the persistent beauty that endures. The gift includes rare early works such as Adobe Chapel, Medina Plaza, along the Purgatory River, Colorado (1964), made only a year after Adams began to photograph. It also comprises such photographs as Basement for a Tract House, Colorado Springs (1969) and Outdoor Theater, North Edge of Denver (1973–1974), which are included in the artist’s seminal early books The New West: Landscapes along the Colorado Front Range (1974) and denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area (1977). Both volumes examined the new landscape of homes, highways, strip malls, and subdivisions that transformed the Southwest in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Robert and Kerstin Adams are also giving the National Gallery the only known prints of Along the Missouri River, North of Kansas City, Missouri (1979) and Interstate 25, Weld County, Colorado (1983), as well as pictures such as Clearcut, Clatsop County, Oregon (c. 2000) from his later study of the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest.
Three Works by Zarina
The National Gallery has acquired three works by Zarina (active internationally, 1937–2020), one of the most celebrated South Asian artists of the past century. Although printmaking was her primary medium, her interest in materials extended to the inventive manipulation of paper alone, as well as projects in metal, terracotta, and stone. Ideas concerning displacement, mobility, loss, and memory are found throughout Zarina’s work, as she explored her rootless existence and the fraught politics of migration and cultural dominance in the various locations where she lived. These are the first works by Zarina to enter the National Gallery’s collections and represent the range of her artistic practice.
The concept of home is a recurring theme in Zarina’s work. One of her seminal print projects, Homes I Made / A Life in Nine Lines (1997) features various floor plans of the many places she resided over the course of her itinerant life. The linear structure of the compositions is offset by subtle ink washes and textural effects that hint at the presence of inhabitants of these dwellings, suggesting scuff marks on floors and other signs of wear. Corners (1980) is a superb example of Zarina’s cast paper reliefs. Recalling the facade of a nondescript, brutalist style of urban apartment buildings with repeating rows of recessed rectilinear windows, this relief exemplifies both her minimalist sensibility as well as her interest in architecture. The empty, recessed areas of the relief may also be seen as an allusion to displacement. The prominent woodgrain pattern in the untitled print from 1968 demonstrates Zarina’s love of the inherent textures of her materials, interest in neutral and natural color palettes, and alludes to the woodblock prints that first inspired her to take up printmaking.
Orit Hofshi, Time...thou ceaseless lackey to eternity
Orit Hofshi, Time…thou ceaseless lackey to eternity, 2017, woodcut and rubbing with colored pencil and grease pencil additions on four sheets of handmade Kozo and Abaca paper, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 2022.8.1.a-d
The daughter of Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia, Israeli artist Orit Hofshi (b. 1959) has gained increasing attention in recent years for her compelling, monumental works combining woodcut printing, drawing, and at times incorporating the carved woodblocks themselves. The history and founding of Israel and its ongoing conflicts with Palestine have informed her evocative, often desolate landscapes that explore universal themes of migration, displacement, and the toll that human “civilization” has taken on the land. The National Gallery has acquired Time… thou ceaseless lackey to eternity (2018), one of her largest polyptychs. Considered by the artist to be one of her masterworks, this is the first work by Hofshi to enter the National Gallery collection.
Comprised of four panels, this landscape setting is littered with structural remains and rocky outcroppings, navigated by near life-size figures. Implied forces of human and natural destruction as well as evolutionary changes over time coexist in this haunting vista that alludes to the romantic sublime, underscored by disquiet in the lack of specificity of location and timeframe. The figures appear as wanderers or vagabonds, relatively calm, even stoic, and somewhat detached from their surroundings, as if taking stock of circumstances along a journey or in the aftermath of a catastrophic event. There is also an autobiographical element to this work: the synagogue in the far-left panel represents a temple that was destroyed in the anti-Semitic rioting in Czechoslovakia where her parents once lived. The self-portrait figure in the foreground confronts the viewer with Hofshi's forceful gaze, compelling us to share in her role as witness to the consequences when we lose sight of our shared humanity and respect for the natural world that sustains us.
The emotional tensions between figures and setting—aimlessness, resignation, resilience, introspection, and expectation—are heightened by Hofshi’s technique that can be described as expressionist, tempered by realist elements. Her vigorously gouged woodcut line lends an urgency to her forms. Her varied approach to transferring ink from the woodblock by printing, rubbing, and offsetting, adding drawn elements, combining, and reusing woodblocks, and delineating interlocking forms by color all play into the sense of alienation and displacement and complex relationships within and between humankind and the natural world. Hofshi writes: “The landscapes are typically proposed as places, occupied and unoccupied, touched, and untouched, rarely fully committed in a specific context. In such dramatic natural contexts, I find an emphasized sense of evolution, time, and struggles, not only as records of natural phenomenon, but also as reflections of human history.”
Nicole Eisenman, Beer Garden
Nicole Eisenman, Beer Garden, 2012–2017, etching, aquatint, and drypoint, printed chine collé on wove on Hahnemühle paper, image: 101.4 x 121.6 cm (39 15/16 x 47 7/8 in.), sheet: 112.8 x 131.7 cm (44 7/16 x 51 7/8 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 2022.9.1
Nicole Eisenman (b. 1965) is best known as a painter who skillfully combines art history, queer politics, and popular culture into engaging, often fantastical figurative subjects. In 2011 Eisenman set her paints aside to delve into a year completely focused on printmaking, producing over 60 prints in woodcut, lithography, etching, aquatint, and monotype. The National Gallery’s recent acquisition, Beer Garden (2012–2017)—at nearly 4 feet square—stands out as her most monumental print to date and took five years to complete. This is the first work by Eisenman in any medium to enter the collection.
In this work, the artist appears in a distorted self-portrait in a reflection at the bottom of the raised beer stein in the foreground—as both observer and participant among a host of revelers engaged in a range of social interaction and debauched behavior at this popular drinking spot in her Brooklyn neighborhood. The variously caricatured, abstracted, and contorted figures, and wanton atmosphere suggest sources extending from cartoons and comics to French and German late 19th- and early 20th-century depictions of café night life.
Daniel Lind-Ramos, Figura de Poder
Daniel Lind-Ramos (b. 1953) is one of the foremost contemporary artists born and based in Puerto Rico. Raised by a family of artisans and initially trained as painter, he later began to work in assemblage in a way that resonates with the making-do and spiritual traditions of the African Diaspora and with everyday life in his hometown, Loíza. The National Gallery of Art has acquired its first work by Lind-Ramos, Figura de Poder (2016–2020).
Figura de Poder suggests multiple figures that represent power (poder), sound, and force, such as a carnival reveler, a protester, a musician, a construction worker or manual laborer, an animal, or an athlete. The sculpture features three horns that evoke a vejigante reveler, a central figure in the Festival de Santiago Apóstol celebrated in the days surrounding the Feast of Saint James on July 25, while the dominant red color is associated with Chango, the deity of iron and war that is linked to Saint Barbara. Strong musical elements are found throughout the work—a tambourine that doubles as a face, buckets that make up the central “body” of the figure, and a maraca held by one of the gloved hands in the center of the sculpture. They refer to carnival traditions, contemporary political protest, and African-derived music as a site of cultural resistance in the Americas. Other objects—the boxing glove and sneaker seen in the back of the sculpture—are in part autobiographical and suggest the ways in which sports figures like Muhammad Ali became powerful Black social and political forces.
Lind-Ramos creates his assemblages from organic and found materials such as construction tarps, parts of palm tree trunks, and cinder blocks from Loíza, home to a historic Afro–Puerto Rican community and just east of the capital San Juan. His interest in these unconventional objects is also tied to his admiration of arte povera, the contemporary artistic movement that originated in Italy in the 1960s and relied on commonplace materials as a basis for artmaking. Drawing on music, sports, craft, and daily life, Lind-Ramos formed an arresting structure that evokes the indomitable spirit of Afro–Puerto Rican cultural practices and history.
Hank Willis Thomas, A Place to Call Home (Africa America Reflection)
Hank Willis Thomas,
Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976) is a multidisciplinary artist who primarily works with themes related to identity, representation, mass media, and popular culture. The National Gallery has acquired his stainless-steel wall sculpture A Place to Call Home (Africa America Reflection) (2020), which draws a fictional map of an African American continent. It is the first sculpture by this celebrated artist to enter the collection.
Eight feet tall with a mirrored metal surface, A Place to Call Home outlines what appears to be the western hemisphere, but is actually North America nearly connected to Africa instead of South America. Maps, as this substitution implies, have often been used to represent the ideas and stories their makers want to tell rather than the actual topography. This map points to feelings of connection and detachment that many African Americans have toward Africa. As Thomas explains, a “mythical connection to Africa is embedded in your identity, but many people go to Africa looking for home and don’t find it because our roots are so diluted there. They also never felt at home in the U.S., where they were born. I wanted to make a place where African Americans come from.” And in reflecting all viewers, A Place to Call Home also creates opportunities for empathy across cultures.
Louise Nevelson, Untitled
Sculptor Louise Nevelson (1899–1988), is known for her monumental wooden wall pieces and outdoor sculptures. The National Gallery of Art has recently been given Untitled (c. 1975), the first major relief by Nevelson to enter the collection, from Arne and Milly Glimcher, dedicated supporters of the artist.
A late work, Untitled resembles Nevelson’s classic, earlier work in that it consists largely of found pieces of black-painted wood that fit tightly within boxlike containers. Here, Nevelson incorporated large forms and open rhythms that contrast deliberately with the packed, labyrinthine quality visible in much of her other work. Her unique process transformed everyday materials into compositions that transcended space and altered the viewer’s perception. Dramatic rooms of monochromatic works placed on the floor and walls, and occasionally suspended from the ceiling, allowed the viewer to journey through Nevelson’s created worlds.
Born in Pereiaslav, in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine), Nevelson came to the United States in 1905 as part of a wave of Jewish emigration, settling with her family first in Maine, then moving to New York City in 1920, where she studied drama and art. By 1960, Nevelson had established herself firmly within the male-dominated circle of her abstract expressionist peers, and by 1970 she had become an iconic figure known for her sprawling environments and outdoor sculptures as well as her dramatic self-presentation. She received numerous recognitions and awards throughout her lifetime, as well as two significant commissions—the “Louise Nevelson Plaza” in Lower Manhattan and the “Nevelson Chapel” of the Good Shepherd at St. Peter’s Church in Midtown Manhattan.
Virginia Dwan Gift of Ad Reinhardt, Robert Rauschenberg, Jean Tinguely, Edward Kienholz, and Charles Ross
One of the most important art dealers of the late 20th century, Virginia Dwan (b. 1931) presented seminal exhibitions of such movements as pop art, nouveau réalisme, minimal art, conceptual art, and land art during the storied 11-year run of her galleries in Los Angeles and New York. Dwan’s most recent gifts to the National Gallery from her personal collection include a major painting by Ad Reinhardt (1913–1967), two collages by Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008), and sculptures by Jean Tinguely (1925–1991), Edward Kienholz (1927–1994), and Charles Ross (b. 1937). They join Dwan’s numerous other gifts as part of a promised donation of some 250 works, including paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, films, and artists’ books. Many of these works were featured in the 2016–2017 National Gallery exhibition Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959–1971, which traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2017.
The focus of two solo exhibitions at the Los Angeles Dwan Gallery in 1961 and 1963, Reinhardt was also included in the minimalist group show Ten at the New York gallery in 1966. The black square of Reinhardt’s Ultimate Painting (1963) was the artist’s preferred shape for his late works and his most iconic format.
Rauschenberg made Maquette for Robert Rauschenberg Exhibition at Dwan Gallery (1962) in advance of his show at the Los Angeles Dwan Gallery in 1962. Containing a crossword puzzle revealing the gallery’s address and the show’s opening date, a Western Union envelope and telegram addressed to the artist, and transfer drawings rubbed onto the paper sheet, the collage served as the exhibition announcement. A second work, Untitled—(For Virginia with Hook) (1965), is built up from torn fragments of printed and colored papers that the artist glued and stapled to a paper support. Pressed behind Plexiglas, the arrangement is held together by screws and grommets and is meant to be hung from a metal hook. This gift brings two valuable collages produced at the height of Rauschenberg’s career to the nation’s collection.
Tinguely’s Odessa (1963) was included in Dwan’s 1963 exhibition of the Swiss artist’s mechanical sculptures. Composed of three rotating wheel hubs bound to one another by their original rubber straps, the sculpture is activated by an electric foot pedal. A superb example of kinetic art, Odessa is the first sculpture by Tinguely to enter the National Gallery collection.
Kienholz’s assemblage Portrait of Virginia (1963) combines fragments of an old table, a discarded box, scraps of metal, and other elements to evoke Dwan. A crystal vase turned upside-down serves as her head. While the National Gallery owns several of Kienholz’s editioned works produced at Gemini G.E.L. in collaboration with Nancy Reddin Kienholz, Portrait of Virginia is the museum’s first unique assemblage, the medium for which the artist is best known.
Ross’s Collapsing Cube (1966) is the second sculpture by the artist to enter the collection, joining Hanging Islands (1966/2015) given by Dwan in 2016. The five Plexiglas elements are arranged side by side to narrate the “collapse” of a cube into progressively more complex polygons. The emblematic geometric form, the cube, becomes increasingly difficult to perceive.
Heather Podesta Gift of Thomas Demand, Vik Muniz, and Frank Thiel
A prominent collector of contemporary art, Heather Podesta has made important contributions to the collection of the National Gallery of Art over the years. Her most recent donation of outstanding photographs by Thomas Demand (b. 1964), Vik Muniz (b. 1961), and Frank Thiel (b. 1966) significantly deepens the museum’s holdings of photographs by these prolific artists.
Demand’s provocative photograph Junior Suite (2012) comments on the irreverent nature of tabloid photography and immense public interest in celebrity tragedy. Responding to the media frenzy surrounding the death of Whitney Houston in 2012, Demand was shocked by the publication of one picture that depicted the room service table where Houston had been eating moments before she died. Demand recreated the scene using colored paper, then photographed the highly crafted fabrication before destroying it. Junior Suite disrupts the illusion of intimacy created by the tabloid image, often referred to as Houston’s “last supper,” and instead reveals the morbid invasion of privacy it signifies.
Muniz’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Ashes (1999) comments on Casper David Friedrich’s iconic 1818 painting of a man reflecting on a sublime wilderness. Muniz updates the 19th-century rendering, where a mysterious fog both obscures and reveals the landscape, to a contemporary one constructed entirely from ash and discarded cigarette butts. The conceptual difference between Friedrich’s highly recognizable romantic image and the detritus of Muniz’s Wanderer creates a fascinating dialogue about individual experience, health, and the environment.
Thiel has photographed the transformation of a reunified Berlin for over two decades. His large-scale color print Stadt 10/06A (Berlin) (2001) documents a city reborn after the tumultuous events of the 20th century and reveals an unfolding architectural history through the creation of new patterns of urban existence. Thiel is also interested in the overwhelming power of glacial configurations. His monumental photograph Perito Moreno #11 (2012–2013), depicting Patagonia’s Perito Moreno Glacier, is a haunting meditation on the strength and majesty, and fragility and endangerment, of the natural world.
Four Works from Melvin Edward ’s Lynch Fragments Series Acquired
Recognized as a pioneer in the history of contemporary American sculpture, Melvin Edwards (b. 1937) draws inspiration from African metalworking traditions, American racial histories, and visual languages of modernism, as well as from his own personal experiences and relationships. The National Gallery of Art has acquired four works from Lynch Fragments, Edwards’s most extensive and celebrated series that responds to legacies of race, labor, and oppression.
Originally inspired by police killings of Black citizens and other forms of brutality during the civil rights era, Edwards’s Lynch Fragments are modestly sized wall reliefs made from found metal objects, such as chains, locks, knives, tool parts, and other detritus that the artist welded together into abstract forms. The series has three distinct periods: the early 1960s that depicted Edwards’s response to racial violence in the United States; his activism in the wake of the Vietnam War during the early 1970s; and from 1978 to the present, when he began to pay homage to significant individuals in his life—usually friends, collaborators, and personal heroes—and to explore ideas of nostalgia and investigate African culture.
The twisted steel and chain of All Most (1985) recall histories of labor and slavery as the work simultaneously evokes Edwards’s own past in both rural and industrialized contexts in the South. A large trowel juts out from Tayali Ever Ready (1981–1986/1988) to pay tribute to Zambia’s first modern sculptor, Henry Tayali. Siempre Gilberto de la Nuez (1994) honors the Cuban painter and friend of Edwards with chains, blades, and a cross formed by two threaded rods. For Emilio Cruz (2005) similarly is a memorial to a friend and artist as well as an example of the Discs, a major development in the Lynch Fragment series, in which Edwards adheres welded compositions to the center of metal circles.
Born in Houston, Texas, Edwards began his artistic career at USC, where he met and was mentored by the Hungarian painter Francis de Erdely. In 1965 the Santa Barbara Museum of Art organized his first solo exhibition, which launched his professional career. Edwards moved to New York City in 1967. Shortly after his arrival, his work was exhibited at The Studio Museum in Harlem. In 1970 he became the first African American sculptor to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Edwards is represented also by two works on paper in the National Gallery’s collection.
Betye Saar, The Trickster
A pioneer of second-wave feminist and postwar Black nationalist aesthetics, Betye Saar’s (b. 1926) practice examines African American identity, spirituality, and cross-cultural connectedness. The Trickster (1994), recently acquired by the National Gallery of Art, reflects Saar’s continued introspection, her assertion of the aesthetic and conceptual power of African cultural forms, and the belief that art can be made from anything. This is her first assemblage to enter the National Gallery’s collection where it joins one print and two mixed media works by her.
Made from a seven-foot-tall antique heater adorned with a necklace of bells, chains, and vintage keys, The Trickster depicts Eshu, the trickster god of the Yoruba people that protects devotees while engaging in mischief. Saar has represented the trickster figure throughout her career, beginning in the early 1970s with hanging leather pieces. This totemic variation represents not only the enduring significance of the figure for Saar, but also demonstrates her command of her materials on a monumental scale.
Since 1969 Saar has produced potent, evocative assemblage sculptures that explore themes of race, gender, ancestry, and spirituality. Her work is part of a storied tradition of artists working with found objects in Southern California and aligned with multiple art historical movements, including Black Arts, feminist art, and Neo-Dada, while remaining a reflection of her personal history and singular view. Saar’s assemblage practice began with the reappropriation of racist memorabilia she encountered at flea markets and yard sales, turning hurtful imagery into symbols of empowerment, most notably in the assemblage The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972). The collections of African and Oceanic art at the Field Museum in Chicago later sparked her interest in ancestral arts, ritual objects, and spiritual power. Saar’s symbolically rich body of work has evolved over time to demonstrate the various cultural, political, and technological contexts in which it exists.
Carmen Herrera, Untitled and Untitled Estructura (Yellow)
Carmen Herrera (1915–2022, Havana) was one of the leading practitioners of abstract art who emerged during the second half of the 20th century. Largely ignored for most of her life, Herrera is now widely recognized. Associated with non-representational, concrete abstraction in Europe, the United States, and Latin America, Herrera’s art contributed to the cross-pollination of modernist ideas. Combining crisp contours with contrasting chromatic planes, Herrera’s works create movement, rhythm, and spatial tension across their surfaces. The National Gallery of Art has just acquired Herrera’s painting Untitled (2013) and her sculptural relief Untitled Estructura (Yellow) (1966/2016). The works are the first by the artist to enter the National Gallery’s collection.
“The National Gallery is honored to acquire two works by the renowned abstract artist Carmen Herrera, including Untitled, among the last of her signature green-and-white paintings, and one of her painted sculptures known as Estructuras (Structures),” said James Meyer, curator of modern art at the National Gallery of Art. “We are particularly grateful to have acquired these works before Herrera's passing. The acquisition gave the artist great satisfaction late in her extraordinary career.”
Untitled, in Herrera’s distinctive green-and-white color palette, recalls her series Blanco y Verde (1959–1971), 15 earlier works that combine rectangular supports with triangular shapes in these hues. Painting works in green and white is “like saying yes and no,” Herrera once said. This combination of value and color creates intense visual effects that challenge the viewer’s perception: in Untitled, space appears both illusionistic and flat, receding and coming forward simultaneously. Herrera made Untitled at the age of 98, and it was the last green-and-white work in her possession.
Untitled Estructura (Yellow) is one of several sculptural structures that Herrera conceived during the mid-1960s. It consists of two identical, triangular wedges hung opposite each other, with a narrow slice of wall visible between the inverted forms. The Estructuras allowed Herrera to push the boundaries of painting as a medium by painting the frames and edges of her canvases—a feature integral to the viewer’s perception of the work. Lacking the resources to produce sculpture, Herrera instead began making wall reliefs in painted wood in 1971. Owing to her success later in life, she was able to realize the Estructuras in wood and, eventually, painted aluminum.
The youngest of several children of a newspaper editor and journalist, Herrera studied architecture and art at the Universidad de La Habana before moving to New York in 1939 with her American-born husband, Jesse Loewenthal. In New York, Herrera developed her artistic skills at the Art Students League and in the studios of painters Samuel Brecher and Jon Corbino. In 1948 the couple moved to Paris, where Herrera encountered many of the leading artists and writers of the period and emerged as an abstract painter, exhibiting her work at the prestigious Salon des Réalités Nouvelles annually until 1953.
Returning to New York in 1954, Herrera worked continuously over the next several decades, refining and simplifying the formats of her painting. In contrast to contemporaries such as Ellsworth Kelly and Leon Polk Smith, Herrera, a woman of Cuban background, was unable to sell her work. She was offered her first retrospective at New York’s Alternative Museum in 1985. The turning point of her career came in 2004–2005, when her work was featured in well-received shows at Latincollector in New York and her painting Untitled (1952) was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. A retrospective exhibition, Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight, was held during her centenary at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2016.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby,
The National Gallery of Art has acquired Eko Skyscraper (2019) by Njideka Akunyili Crosby (b. 1983), the first work by this celebrated artist to enter the National Gallery’s collection.
Eko Skyscraper depicts a young Yoruba woman in front of a lush natural backdrop. The painting’s title holds keys to understanding the work, and the manner of its making: “Eko” refers to Lagos, the Nigerian city where the artist attended middle school, while “skyscraper” alludes to the figure’s threaded, structured hair style featured in a 1967 photograph taken in Kisangani, Congo, by Eliot Elisofon, a documentary photographer. In the painting, Akunyili Crosby reversed the image in Elisofon’s photograph, amplified the sitter’s outward gaze, added a new backdrop, and rendered the picture in warm gradients of orange. Unlike traditional portraits or documentary photographs where subjects pose or are recorded live, Akunyili Crosby builds her imagery at a remove across place and time. In addition to various archives, the artist sources the images for her African and African diasporic subjects from a mix of her own photographs, magazines, and online resources, all of which combine to reflect the experience and consciousness of an artist who emigrated to the United States from her native Nigeria.
David C. Driskell, Current Forms: Yoruba Circle
David C. Driskell,
David C. Driskell (1931–2020) was an accomplished artist, celebrated curator, and one of the world’s leading authorities on the history of African American art. The National Gallery of Art has acquired its first painting by Driskell, Current Forms: Yoruba Circle (1969), which was inspired by the West African aesthetic and religious traditions that Driskell immersed himself in during travels to Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria beginning in 1969.
Current Forms: Yoruba Circle features the symbol of Shango, the orisha (deity) of fire, thunder, and justice. Shango was revered among communities of enslaved people in the Caribbean and the Americas and is still venerated by many from across the African Diaspora. In this painting, Shango’s circular head dominates the canvas, while the figure’s lower half contains calligraphic swirls and shapes evocative of Yoruba masks and motifs. Vibrant fields of pinks and blues frame and segment the figure of Shango, and the surface is animated by active strokes and splashes of purple, orange, and blue paint. Driskell merges color field and action painting with West African symbolism in a bold, compelling image that exemplifies his signature style.
Driskell had deep ties to the Washington, DC, area. He received his BA in art from Howard University in 1955 and an MFA from the Catholic University of America in 1962. He taught and chaired the art department at Howard University (1962–1966) and the department of art at the University of Maryland, College Park (1976–1998), which established the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora in 2001.
Zanele Muholi, Ntozakhe II, (Parktown)
Zanele Muholi (b. 1972, Umlazi, South Africa) is a celebrated self-described visual activist who has in the last two decades documented Black gay, lesbian, transgender, and intersex people in South Africa. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Muholi’s Ntozakhe II, (Parktown) (2016) from the series titled Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness (2012–present), in which the artist (who uses the pronouns they and their) turns the camera on themself to reclaim their blackness.
Drawing on the conventions of traditional portraits, fashion photographs, and ethnographic images, Muholi in Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness adorns themself with a variety of everyday objects—clothespins, scrubbing pads, latex gloves—to allude to their personal past, South Africa’s fraught history, and urgent global concerns, as well as sexual politics and cultural violence. By digitally darkening their skin and brightening the whites of their eyes, Muholi intensifies their own blackness to make these pictures call into question notions of beauty and pride. “I wanted to use my face so that people will always remember just how important our Black faces are, when confronted by them.” Echoing the words of the celebrated African American photographer Gordon Parks, Muholi asserts that they want to “teach people about our history, to rethink what history is all about, to reclaim it for ourselves, to encourage people to use artistic tools such as cameras as weapons to fight back.” Muholi further intensifies the confrontational nature of their photographs by making very large prints, often more than 11 feet high.
Ntozakhe II, (Parktown) is a powerful self-portrait in which the artist employs their body to confront “the politics of race and pigment.” The artist posed in a loose-fitting toga-like garment with a crown of hair donuts. Those props, along with the slight tilt of the chin, upturned gaze, and elongated neck, make Muholi look like the Statue of Liberty. Noting that the statue is green, Muholi wondered why it could not also be Black: “In some ways, yes, Ntozakhe is based on the Statue of Liberty, representing the idea of freedom—the freedom all women should have—as well as pride: pride in who we are as Black, female-bodied beings. But what kind of freedom are we talking about? What is the color of the Statue of Liberty? What race is the figure monumentalized as Lady Liberty?”
James Luna, The Artifact Piece (1987/1990) and Take A Picture with a Real Indian (1991/2001/2010)
One of the best-known Native American artists, James Luna (Luiseño, Puyukitchum, Ipai, and Mexican, 1950–2018) used his body in performances, installations, and photographs to question the fetishization, museological display, and commodification of Native Americans. The National Gallery of Art has acquired two of Luna’s historic multipart works: The Artifact Piece (1987/1990) and Take a Picture with a Real Indian (1991/2001/2010). These are significant additions to the permanent collection by this influential Native American artist.
The Artifact Piece (1987/1990) was first presented at the San Diego Museum of Man and later at the Studio Museum in Harlem as part of the landmark Decade Show. The work comprises two vitrines, one with text panels perched on a bed of sand where Luna originally lay for short intervals wearing a breechcloth, and the other filled with some of Luna’s personal effects, including his college diploma, favorite music, and family photos. The Artifact Piece resonated broadly in the 1980s and has grown in influence among artists and scholars ever since. In 2020 the Luna Estate collaborated with the Garth Greenan Gallery to plan for the posthumous presentation of The Artifact Piece, in which a surrogate will leave an impression in the sand, signaling the absence of the artist.
Take a Picture with a Real Indian (1991/2001/2010) was first presented at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1991 and later reprised in 2001 in Salina, Kansas, and in 2010 on Columbus Day (now Indigenous Peoples’ Day) outside Washington, DC’s Union Station. It is Luna’s most interactive work, in which individuals originally posed with Luna himself or with three life-size cutouts of the artist, two wearing varieties of traditional Native dress and the third in chinos and a polo shirt. In keeping with the Luna Estate’s wishes, the “standees” will represent the artist posthumously in future installations. When someone interacts with this work, two Polaroid photographs are taken: one for the participant to take home and one that remains with the work as a record of the performance. Luna found he attracted more participants while in Native dress than in street clothes, demonstrating the popularity of stereotypical Native American identity and its construct as a tourist attraction.