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Acquisition Highlights

In over 75 years of its existence the National Gallery of Art has amassed one of the world’s most significant collections of European and American masterworks of paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, prints, drawings, and photographs. From a beginning with a selection of 126 paintings and 26 sculptures given by the Gallery’s founder Andrew W. Mellon, the collection has grown to more than 145,000 works today.

The National Gallery of Art’s mission is to preserve, collect, exhibit, and foster understanding of works of art, and the permanent collection is the very core of that mission. The 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.

2020 Acquisition Highlights

John Outterbridge, Plus Tax: Shopping Bag Society, Rag Man Series

detail-outterbridge-plus-tax-shopping-bag-society

John Outterbridge, Plus Tax: Shopping Bag Society, Rag Man Series, 1971, mixed media, Purchased with funds from The Ahmanson Foundation and Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, 2020.12.1

The Gallery has recently acquired Plus Tax: Shopping Bag Society, Rag Man Series (1971), the first work by the African American artist John Outterbridge to enter the collection. It is part of a series of eight sculptures made from 1970 to 1976 that were inspired by the idea of the ragman and the social fabric of 1970s south-central Los Angeles. Using recycled canvas to reimagine the model of modernist assemblage, the Rag Man series has literal and figurative depth.

John Outterbridge (b. 1933) grew up during the Depression in the Jim Crow South surrounded by his grandmother’s handmade herbal remedies (often sewn into asafetida bags) and a playground of discarded objects from his father’s junk business. In 1963 Outterbridge went to Los Angeles, where he began assembling cast-off materials to reveal and honor the cultural histories of his youth. After the 1965 Watts Riots, Outterbridge incorporated the considerable detritus left by the riots to make sense of and create a new order from the ruins of south-central Los Angeles.

In Plus Tax: Shopping Bag Society, Outterbridge has sewn found canvas into the form of a shopping bag, on which he has colorfully painted the ground and the words “PLUS TAX” on the left side, “BAG” repeated six times on the right, and “Shopping Bag Society” on the back. To the bag’s handles the artist has attached colored paper tags, some from J. W. Robinson’s, an upscale Los Angeles department store. Plus Tax: Shopping Bag Society questions the different values placed on such an object in a society with a wide socioeconomic range. Is this work someone’s waste, or someone’s treasure; who is taxed or burdened by this society, and who has it “in the bag”?

Emma Amos, Gold Face Type

Emma Amos, Gold Face Type, 19661966

Emma Amos, Gold Face Type, 1966, color screenprint, Gift of the Collectors Committee, 2019.164.2

The National Gallery of Art has recently acquired five works on paper (four prints and one collaged paper-pulp work) made from the 1960s to the early 2000s by the artist and activist Emma Amos (1937–2020). These works are examples of Amos’s engagement with issues of feminism and racism, and power dynamics in imagery that does not always appear overtly political.

Amos was the youngest and only female member of the important New York artist collective Spiral, which was formed in response to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Founded by Richard Mayhew, Romare Bearden, and Hale Woodruff, the collective served as a forum for African American artists to discuss their role in America’s rapidly changing political and cultural landscape. They explored ideas such as whether “black art” can or should be defined—issues that continue to be debated today.

Amos went on to contribute to the important feminist art journal Heresies and purportedly participated in the Guerrilla Girls, an activist group of anonymous women artists who protest injustices in the art world. Throughout her career Amos faced prejudice against both her race and gender, and she primarily showed her art in exhibitions that featured black and/or women artists. Amos’s employment and family life also limited her artistic production, contributing to her mostly small and often experimental printed editions that have slight variations, such as collaged or other unique elements, as seen in several of the works acquired by the Gallery.

These five works on paper join one print diptych by Amos in the Gallery’s collection.

Dirck Hals, Merry Company on a Terrace

Dirck Hals, Merry Company on a Terrace, 16251625

Dirck Hals, Merry Company on a Terrace, 1625, oil on panel, The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, 2020.11.1

The Gallery has acquired its first painting by Dirck Hals (1591–1656), the younger brother of Frans Hals (c. 1582/1583–1666), who was one of the most innovative and prolific artists active in Haarlem in the early decades of the 17th century. Dirck probably trained with his brother and with the Rotterdam genre painter Willem Buytewech (1591/1592–1624). Buytewech was one of a handful of artists who specialized in small-scale merry companies—scenes of young men and women enjoying themselves either indoors or in the open air. Dirck also explored this engaging theme, but the influence of his brother’s characteristically vivid palette, painterly technique, and animated brushwork imbued his merry companies with distinctive vivacity and lightness of spirit.

Merry Company on a Terrace (1625) was painted during the period of Dirck’s best work. The outdoor setting is imaginary and suggests the idyllic country pleasures of the well-to-do. Seated to the left are a woman with a lute and a man with a cello; they are joined by a fashionable young couple who listen to the music. In the background, a young servant readies a display of sparkling tableware and festive dishes, including a spectacular turkey pie. To the right, steps lead from the terrace to a still expanse of water bordered by trees.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, I See Red: Target

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, I See Red: Target, 19921992

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, I See Red: Target, 1992, mixed media on canvas, Purchased with funds from Emily and Mitchell Rales, 2020.6.1

The Gallery has just acquired I See Red: Target (1992) by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (b. 1940), the first painting by a Native American artist to enter the collection. Smith, an enrolled Salish member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation in Montana, is one of the most highly respected artists of the past 40 years. An impressive 11-foot-tall mixed-media work on canvas, I See Red: Target addresses both local and national conversations around the commercial branding of Indigenous American identity through Smith's deftly layered assemblage of printed ephemera and painterly touches. This painting joins 24 works—either photographs or works on paper—by Native American artists currently in the Gallery's permanent collection. Other artists represented include Sally Larsen, Victor Masayesva Jr., and Kay WalkingStick.

I See Red: Target features a target and darts that are arranged at the top of the work to allude to feathers in a headdress. Smith attached two canvases collaged with clippings from mainstream newspapers as well as the Char-Koosta News, a comic book cover, fabric, and a pennant. The alternating bands of historic images of Native Americans used in a reservation community service notice bear the stain-like drips of bloodred paint, which serve as an evocative device throughout Smith's I See Red series to call up issues of history, identity, race, and rage.

María Berrío, A Sunburst Restrained

María Berrío, A Sunburst Restrained, 20192019

María Berrío, A Sunburst Restrained, 2019, collage with Japanese paper and watercolor on canvas, Gift of Erika and John Toussaint, 2020.2.1

The Gallery has acquired its first work by Colombian artist María Berrío (b. 1982), who is known for her luminous collages of Japanese papers painted with watercolor. She arranges the collages to depict female figures in spaces of refuge and imagined utopias that incorporate the cultural influences and flora of South America.

In A Sunburst Restrained (2019) two female figures recline in a tiled setting. A fluid pink ground fills the bottom third of the composition, over which a branch full of leaves and lemons appears, cutting across the foreground and cropped by the bottom edge of the canvas. The artist attributes her inspiration for this work to Pablo Neruda’s poem "Ode to a Lemon," which links the greatness of celestial light to the modest but life-affirming form of a lemon. Berrío has imbued her rendering of the two women and the lemons with such barely contained vitality and light.

Barbara Morgan, Martha Graham, American Document ("Puritan Love Duet" with Erick Hawkins)

Barbara Morgan, Martha Graham, American Document (

Barbara Morgan, Martha Graham, American Document ("Puritan Love Duet" with Erick Hawkins), 1938, gelatin silver print, R. K. Mellon Family Foundation, 2020.4.1

The Gallery has acquired a photograph by Barbara Morgan (1900–1992) of pioneering American choreographer and dancer Martha Graham. Morgan met Graham in 1935 and embarked upon a series of photographs of Graham and her dance company. Graham created a series of dances based on American subjects, including American Document, which incorporated episodes from American history set to music by Ray Green and accompanied by spoken quotations from historical documents. Martha Graham, American Document (“Puritan Love Duet” with Erick Hawkins) (1938) shows Graham in one section of the dance, “Puritan Love Duet,” with Hawkins, the first male dancer to appear with Graham’s company. Morgan’s photograph joins one other photograph and two prints by the artist in the Gallery's collection.

Oliver Lee Jackson, Triptych (3.20.15, 5.21.15, 6.8.15)

Oliver Lee Jackson, Triptych (3.20.15, 5.21.15, 6.8.15), 20152015

Oliver Lee Jackson, Triptych (3.20.15, 5.21.15, 6.8.15), 2015, applied felt, chalk, alkyd paint, and mixed media on wood panel, Purchased with funds from the Glenstone Foundation, 2019.143.1

The Gallery has acquired one of Oliver Lee Jackson's (b. 1935) most remarkable works, the large Triptych (3.20.15, 5.21.15, 6.8.15) (2015), consisting almost entirely of colored felt cut and applied to board. In each panel, dark forms suggesting figures or parts of figures seem to move, dance, or run in and through fields of light blue, orange, pink, green, and white. Figurative references—looming heads and recumbent bodies—are also contained within the fields of color. The imagery, with its simultaneous suggestions of joy and intense energy, dance and flight, echoes thematic material that has permeated Jackson's career, from the dynamism of his works of the 1970s inspired by newspaper photographs of the 1960 massacre in Sharpeville, South Africa, to persistent themes of a grand dance evoking a sense of spectacle and ritual. While collage and cut-outs have a long history in 20th-century art, Jackson's embrace of felt, which he values for its saturated color and optical neutrality, is distinctive. He folds and overlaps the cloth to create sensations of depth that complicate (without ever contradicting) the inherent flatness of the materials.

Triptych joins four paintings by Jackson that are already in the collection, expanding the Gallery's holdings of the work of this powerful modern American artist.