High Museum Acquires 54 African-American Artworks


The acquisition includes Thornton Dial’s “Crossing Waters” (2006-2011), which refers the trans-Atlantic slave trade and was the largest painting he ever made. Credit High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio

The High Museum of Art in Atlanta has the largest collection of Thornton Dial works in the world. It’s now about to get bigger, thanks to a major acquisition of artworks courtesy of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.

A total of 54 works by contemporary African-American artists from the South make up the gift and purchase. Thirteen of those are by Mr. Dial, a self-taught artist who used scavenged materials to depict black struggle in the South. The acquisition includes “Crossing Waters” (2006-11), which refers to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and was the largest painting ever made by Mr. Dial, who died last year.

With the acquisition, the museum will also receive 11 quilts by the women of Gee’s Bend, a remote community in Alabama renowned for its beautiful quilting. In a 2002 review in The New York Times of a Gee’s Bend collection at the Whitney Museum, Michael Kimmelman called them “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced.”

The collection also includes works by Lonnie Holley, Ronald Lockett and Sam Doyle. To showcase the new pieces, the museum will increase the space in its folk and self-taught art galleries by 30 percent, as part of a permanent collection reinstallation planned for 2018.

“We’re thrilled to death. It’s a collection that fits hands in glove with our existing collection,” said Randall Suffolk, the museum’s director. “It deepens the number of works we have in relation to these artists, but also fills in some gaps for us.”

The Souls Grown Deep Foundation was created by the scholar and collector William S. Arnett to raise the profile of art by self-taught African-Americans. The foundation has been donating works to major arts organizations around the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2014.

Correction: April 25, 2017

An earlier version of this article about the High Museum of Art in Atlanta’s acquisition of 54 artworks from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation referred imprecisely to the type of acquisition. The works are part of a gift and purchase; they are not simply a gift.

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