Monday, July 20, 2009
Watch the trailer.
Friday, July 17, 2009
By Kinshasha Holman Conwill From issue 204, July/August 2009Published online 16.7.09 (opinion)
The US art world is abuzz over the White House campaign to bring a greater diversity to its art collection—including more works by African American artists [the Obamas have been quietly notifying an array of public institutions, dealers and collectors that they are looking to borrow first-rate art of a more recent vintage to display in the White House with an emphasis on works by black, Hispanic, Asian and female artists]. Such a gesture from so influential a place has understandably had a catalytic effect—stirring conversation, raising expectations. And that’s a good thing. The move is also throwing a strong light on African American art and the artists who create it.
This comes at a time of increased interest in African American art among mainstream museums and collectors. The 2007 retrospective by the renowned sculptor Martin Puryear, organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and shown at major museums across the country is one of the most vivid examples of that interest. It follows by two years the Sam Gilliam retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery. Gilliam’s participation in the 1972 Venice Biennale foreshadowed the watershed decades of the 1980s and 1990s which saw African American artists from Puryear to Robert Colescott, Emilio Cruz, Leonardo Drew, Melvin Edwards, David Hammons, Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, John Outterbridge, Betye Saar, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, Kara Walker, Nari Ward and Fred Wilson, among others, represent the US in international venues from São Paulo to Venice, from Johannesburg to Cairo, Dakar, Kassel, Sydney, Istanbul and Cuenca.
Yet this was not always the case. There was a time not long ago when one could visit major museums or attend international fairs and rarely find works by African American artists. Their work was rarer still at auctions and those few there were, were not commanding prices commensurate with their cultural significance nor competitive with their non-African American counterparts.
Those of us building the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture have a keen interest in past history and current practice as we determine the role of African American art in a museum with a mandate to tell the broad story of the African American experience. We needn’t look far for inspiration in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum—one of the strongest and most longstanding collections of African American art in this country—and the growing holdings of the National Portrait Gallery, two sister institutions with whom we are collaborating. Beyond the National Mall, the collections begun in the 100 years after the Civil War, including those documented in the major travelling exhibition, “To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities” (organised by the Addison Gallery and the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1999), were for decades the nearly singular models of continuous commitment to African American art. The stewards of those collections—joined over the decades by scores of private nonprofit museums of African American history and culture—have often been the most stalwart advocates of art by African Americans.
The arts need such advocacy to survive. African American art, given its historically lower level of sustained attention, requires advocacy at a higher volume. The President and First Lady already have provided a resonant and nuanced voice for a more diverse notion of American art.
What is the significance of the attention being paid to the art of African Americans by this country’s most visible museum? Puryear is arguably one of America’s greatest sculptors and certainly doesn’t require the imprimatur of the White House. Many of his peers seem to be skillfully navigating the fraught waters of contemporary art as well.
Yet when one steps outside the vaunted and insular precincts of art, validation takes on a different tone. Beyond museum exhibitions, auction prices, critical reviews and international fairs, lies the vast territory of a larger society less swayed by esoteric notions of the valorisation of art and artists. Rather, there one finds a public whose tastes and desires are being stirred by the heady—and welcomed—promise of change. It is that indefinable sense of possibility that opens minds and fuels concrete action to challenge the status quo.
It would be presumptuous and premature to predict that the actions of one president, even one as influential as Barack Obama, would singlehandedly alter the course of American art history or the destinies of African American artists. Yet his and the First Lady’s early actions in expanding the agenda for White House art have evinced an ability to transform the bully pulpit into a poetic perch from which to suggest new strategies for broadening the conversation about art and culture in this country. The echoes of those actions are reverberating not only in the hallowed halls of the First Family’s residence, but down the decades of American creative expression.
Does this moment signal a new era in American and African American art? It’s too soon to tell. But it is extraordinarily intriguing in its potential.
The writer is deputy director, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History & Culture
Thursday, July 16, 2009
The Tennessee Court of Appeals, in a decision sent to attorneys for both sides on Wednesday, puts the financially troubled school back on track to sell a 50 percent interest in the collection to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., for $30 million. The sale would keep the collection in Tennessee for six months of the year.
Appellate judges ruled the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M., representing the painter's estate, had no standing to argue Fisk violated conditions imposed by O'Keeffe and, as a result, the collection should be forfeited to them. The O'Keeffe Museum's intervention held up the sale and could still — its attorneys have 60 days to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
"It's been a long fight, and we are encouraged by this," said Ken West, Fisk's vice president of communications. "Our agreement is still in force, and we intend to live up to our end of the bargain. The matter is not concluded, and we hope to see its next logical conclusion."
Fisk President Hazel R. O'Leary said in a statement the university spent money defending its position in court that could have gone to scholarships.
O'Keeffe Museum representatives didn't return calls for comment. If they don't appeal, the case returns to the lower court to determine O'Keeffe's intent for the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, which she donated in 1949.
The decision to sell art collections is becoming commonplace as higher education institutions struggle with growing expenses and shrinking endowments, art dealers say.
"They see these things as assets, and they sell them off to pay their gas bills, which is frustrating," said Stan Mabry, owner of Stanford Fine Art in Belle Meade. "Long term, they'll regret it. I wish there was a way to get the city, the state museum, collectors and others to pitch in and keep them in Nashville."
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Mabry said Brandeis University decided to sell its permanent collection of some of the world's finest modern and contemporary art to alleviate financial woes. If Fisk follows suit, Mabry said, "it's a loss."
"If they do go to Arkansas, they'll still be in the South, but it's not the same as to have something in your state, in your city, in your community," said Mabry, whose gallery specializes in late 19th- and 20th-century American and European paintings.
Crystal Bridges lauded the ruling, said Virginia Germann, director of museum relations. "It represents a significant step forward," she said. "The decision allows the Alfred Stieglitz Collection to remain intact and well cared for and permits Fisk to proceed with the agreement that would provide a public home for this unique collection."
Gallery to reopen
The 19-page opinion, written by Judge Frank Clement Jr., painstakingly lays out the details of the case, starting with the death of Arthur Stieglitz, who was O'Keeffe's husband, a pioneering photographer and a collector of American modern art. It describes his last will and testament, discusses a surviving daughter who was disabled and outlines communication between O'Keeffe and then-Fisk President Charles Johnson.
The collection will go back on display at Fisk's Carl Van Vechten Gallery on Aug. 1. The gallery is undergoing renovation, West said.
The school's trustees voted in 2005 to sell two works, O'Keeffe's Radiator Building — Night, New York and Marsden Hartley's 1913 Painting No. 3, in the midst of a financial crisis that threatened Fisk's ability to stay open. Donors came to the school's aid, but O'Leary said the sale offers a long-term solution and protects Fisk's endowment.
The O'Keeffe Museum offered to buy Radiator Building in 2007 for $7.5 million. The courts blocked that sale, in part because of the possibility Crystal Bridges would make a better offer.
Crystal Bridges Museum, owned by Walmart heiress Alice Walton, made its $30 million offer for 50 percent of the collection. Under the agreement, the museum would have the chance to buy the remaining share if the school's financial situation worsened.
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A Davidson County chancellor ruled in March 2008 against the sale to Crystal Bridges, forbade the school from selling the paintings and ordered Fisk to display the collection or forfeit it to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.
The state attorney general's office also entered the fray, opposing the forfeiture of the paintings and arguing that the O'Keeffe Museum couldn't acquire the collection and that Fisk couldn't dispose of it at will because it was a charitable gift and not an asset.
Fisk attorneys appealed, arguing the sale did not violate O'Keeffe's original intent. The ruling proves that the school was acting within its bounds and that the O'Keeffe Museum had no standing, Fisk attorneys Stacey Garrett and Mike Norton said Wednesday.
O'Keeffe was at times dissatisfied with the way the school displayed and handled the collection but never demanded the return of the art collection, court documents show.
Terrance Hurd, who holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Fisk, said he has mixed feelings about his alma mater possibly parting with the collection. Hurd, who owns a talent agency, has visited the collection several times.
"It's a tragic loss to the school to lose any of the collection, but it's a greater loss to not have the resources for the students," he said.
"If that's what has to be done for the school to maintain its livelihood and continue the tradition, then that might be what has to be done."
This play, and Shange’s other work, shows up every few years on Atlanta stages, too. This time a True Colors Theatre production of “For Colored Girls…” runs in preview tonight, and opens tomorrow at the Southwest Arts Center. It stars Robin Givens and Nicole Ari Parker was directed by Atlanta native Jasmine Guy.
She grew up in Atlanta as the child of a preacher, graduated from the Northside School of the Arts (now North Atlanta High School) and went on to an acting career before returning last year. She told reporter Howard Pousner she’s re-learning the city in new ways, and I wonder if her influence here could help redefine the centers of stage work here.
Consider her observations about growing up on the southwest side of Atlanta, and where it fits into arts and culture now. From the story:
“This is the side of town I grew up on, and I grew up always going to the other side of town for ballet lessons, going downtown to perform. … And this area is a theater-going area; these would be the same people who hop up to New York for a weekend and see five Broadway shows.
“I want to serve them but also to make this another hub like the Alliance [Theatre] or 14th Street Playhouse or Horizon [Theatre], just one of the spots where [Atlanta theater-goers] would go. It’s on the map now.”
Want to go? “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” has a preview performance at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Runs July 15 through Aug. 9. (A post-show talk back with Guy was added on July 19, too.) $20-$40. Southwest Arts Center, 915 New Hope Road. 404-588-0234, http://truecolorstheatre.org/
For instant updates about fun things to do around Atlanta, follow Jamie on Twitter @insideaccess.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Those and a couple dozen other works of art scattered throughout the home are only a tiny fraction of the prestigious Tougaloo Art Collections, comprised of African, African American and European American art and artifacts.
It's acclaimed as one of the best collections of its type in the nation. It probably also ranks among the least seen.
Begun in the 1960s with donated works, it's grown to include about 1,500 works, the bulk of which is in storage. It has long lacked an adequate facility for display but one is under construction now.
"Art is so special and so wonderful that it only has value when you can share it with someone," Tougaloo president Beverly Hogan said. "It's a conversation piece, it lifts the spirit, it brings all humankind together in a different kind of way, in fellowship and relationships."
The $7.4 million Bennie G. Thompson Academic Center, with estimated completion in late fall 2010, aims to accomplish all that, plus honor the congressman, a Tougaloo graduate.
Friday, July 10, 2009
A three-person council committee halted -- at least temporarily -- the city's Downtown Development Authority from installing the works, including a piece by Tyree Guyton, a Detroit artist renowned for transforming a city block into a collage of polka dots, stuffed animals and found art.
"We wanted art reflective of Paradise Valley, not reflective of some artist's vision of the universe as it exists in their mind," said Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins.
Collins said she was stumped on a third work.
"Do you know what this is?" Collins asked reporters.
Guyton's spokeswoman declined comment, while The News couldn't reach the other artists, Todd Erickson and Alice Smith.
The rebuff came after a quasi-government group, the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., asked the council to accept and install the works that officials say council staffers have known about.