Thursday, August 27, 2009

Chemistry of Color

In 1988, renowned artist Jacob Lawrence visited the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) to give the school’s commencement address. During that trip, he wandered through the extensive American Art collection there, making a comment to then-Board Director Harold A. Sorgenti that would soon change the programming at the museum.
Lawrence pointed out the lack of African-American artists included in the collection. Sorgenti, also the president of ARCO Chemical Company, realized that Lawrence was scathingly correct; he set off to build the ARCO’s art collection to make up for the PAFA oversight.
The company began to collect only work by contemporary African American artists, concentrating on the time after the 1960s civil rights battles. ARCO amassed a treasure trove, but soon the company was swallowed up. Rather than allow the collection to be sold off piecemeal, Sorgenti bought it and donated it to PAFA.
The exhibition currently on view at the Taft Museum of Art, The Chemistry of Color: The Sorgenti Collection of African American Art, highlights some of the key artists in the PAFA collection: Saar, Faith Ringgold, Howerdina Pindell, Sam Gilliam, Beverly Buchanan and Romare Bearden, as well as Lawrence himself.

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