Major Acquisitions from Souls Grown Deep Foundation Presented in 2022 Exhibition
Washington, DC—In December 2020, the National Gallery of Art announced the major acquisition of 40 works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. The acquisition marked a watershed for the National Gallery—of the 21 Black artists whose works were included in the acquisition, only one (Thornton Dial) was already represented in the museum’s collection. This momentous acquisition will be presented for the first time in a special exhibition, Called to Create: Black Artists of the American South. On view on the East Building’s Upper Level from September 18, 2022, through March 26, 2023, the exhibition will explore the variety of ways in which the artists transform a great range of materials, from found objects to scraps of fabric, tree branches to art supplies, into imaginative and mesmerizing works.
The exhibition will feature all the aforementioned acquisitions, including quilts by artists of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, paintings by Joe Light, sculptures by Lonnie Holley, and works on paper by Nellie Mae Rowe. It also will include Joe Minter’s powerful sculpture Unlocked Chain (1998), a gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in 2021. Two works on paper by Thornton Dial already in the collection, given by Auldlyn Higgins Williams and E. T. Williams, Jr. in 2015, will complement seven other works by Dial in the exhibition, including a sculpture, three painted reliefs, and several drawings. The exhibition also includes one work by Dial’s son, Thornton Dial Jr.
“The addition of 40 works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation to the National Gallery’s collection is transformative—it allows us to tell a fuller picture of modern and contemporary art in America. We are thrilled to have the chance to share these acquisitions with our audiences, who will certainly be inspired by the creations of this incredible group of artists,” said Kaywin Feldman, director, National Gallery of Art.
Exhibition Organization and Curators
The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art.
The exhibition is curated by Harry Cooper, senior curator and head, department of modern art, with Kanitra Fletcher, associate curator of African American and Afro-Diasporic art, both of the National Gallery.
September 18, 2022–March 26, 2023
Stretching across recently renovated galleries on the East Building’s Upper Level, Called to Create: Black Artists of the American South will delve into stories behind works arranged in a mix of styles and media. The first gallery will feature paintings by Joe Light, Ronald Lockett, and Purvis Young. Also on view, Young’s book of collages, Untitled (mid-1980s), is an example of one of several that the artist assembled from the many drawings he made of some of his favorite subjects: buildings in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami, funerals, horses, boats at sea, and people. The first gallery will also include quilts by Mary Lee Bendolph, Mary L. Bennett, and Irene Williams. All in all, nine quilts made by artists of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, will be interspersed throughout the exhibition.
The second gallery will feature a rotating group of works on paper by Nellie Mae Rowe, “Prophet” Royal Robertson, and wife and husband, Georgia and Henry Speller; two sculptures by Hawkins Bolden; and quilts by Missouri Pettway and Sue Willie Seltzer. Made with felt-tip pens, Rowe’s drawings Judith Wearing a Dress (1978) and Fish (1980) represent the highly patterned and personally symbolic drawings the artist began to make in the final years of her life in Atlanta. Fish, with its imagery reminiscent of female reproductive organs, may have been inspired by her inability to bear children.
The third and largest gallery will present sculptures by Lonnie Holley and Joe Minter; quilts by Flora Moore, Sally Mae Pettway, and Lucy P. Pettway; and six works by Thornton Dial. Made in a variety of media, Dial’s works illustrate how artists engaged with issues and events of their time. His relief paintings Refugees Trying to Get to the United States (1988) and Clothes Factory (1995) point to the struggles of migrants and the costs of industrialization, while his drawing The Last Trip Home (Diana’s Funeral) (1997) commemorates the death of Princess Diana. Also included in this gallery will be four haunting and humorous clay heads by James “Son Ford” Thomas including a rare self portrait made in 1987. The artist’s sculptures are among several works in Called to Create: Black Artists of the American South that were previously on view at the National Gallery in the 2018 exhibition Outliers and American Vanguard Art.
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