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August 27, 2021

Acquisition: Joe Minter

Joe Minter, "Unlocked Chain"

Joe Minter
Unlocked Chain, 1998
metal and chain
overall: 104.14 x 53.34 x 22.86 cm (41 x 21 x 9 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation
2021.18.1
Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Joe Minter (b. 1943) is one of the principal artists represented in the collection of Souls Grown Deep Foundation and one of the remaining living artists of the group. In 2020, the National Gallery of Art acquired from the foundation 40 works by 21 African American artists from the southern United States. Following this major acquisition, Souls Grown Deep Foundation generously gifted the National Gallery with Minter's powerful sculpture Unlocked Chain (1998).

An iconic welding of girders and chains, Unlocked Chain is an outstanding example of what Minter calls "message pieces," works he began to create around 1992–1993 to explore ideas about life, human relations, and nature. These message pieces relate to the core of his art, a larger project titled African Village in America—an assemblage on his property that examines the Middle Passage, the history of slavery, and such recent tragedies such as the Sandy Hook shooting and Hurricane Katrina, often with strong Christian messages.

Describing Unlocked Chain, Minter said, "A chain can be something used to secure; it can work for you in all directions. It doesn't need to be used just to shackle. A chain has a life of its own. It lasts past the man. It has been used by many men. There's a lot of spirits within that chain."

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