The Morgan Library & Museum presents Another tradition: drawings by black artists from the southern United States, opening September 24, 2021 and until January 16, 2022. This exhibition celebrates Morgan’s acquisition in 2018 of eleven drawings from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting black artists in the South and their communities. Artists represented in the acquisition include Thornton Dial, Nellie Mae Rowe, Henry Speller, Luster Willis and Purvis Young. Another tradition also incorporates institutional and private loans from Rowe, Lonnie Holley, Sister Gertrude Morgan and Bill Traylor.
Over the past three decades, exhibitions and publications have established the rightful place of figures such as Dial and Quilts from Gee’s Bend, Alabama, in the canon of 20th century art. Emphasis has often been placed on the impressive assemblage works – whether found objects or fabrics – that have emerged from the southern United States. Artists barely out of slavery for a generation or two and subjected to the abuse of Jim Crow, have developed ingenious formal techniques using materials found and skills learned outside of the classroom and studio. Many, like Dial, Rowe and Holley, have exhibited their creations at home in elaborate “garden shows”, drawing the attention of passers-by and personalities in the art world. Another tradition focuses on the genre of drawing, which, like assemblage, is an art of “doing with”.
Its accessibility and frankness have always appealed to artists and their audiences. While some of the works in the exhibition were made on traditional artist’s papers, others incorporate the unique qualities of the media found. The range of media includes watercolor, ballpoint pen, pencil and even glitter. But the impact of these works ultimately transcends their innovative means.
Although each of the eight artists represented speak with a distinct voice, the intimate space of Morgan’s Thaw Gallery illuminates the formal and thematic connections that flow from their shared geographies and experiences. Highlights of the exhibition include Rowe’s Untitled (Woman talking to animals), Dial Life goes on, and Young Sometimes I get the thrill of the game.
Nellie Mae Rowe (1900-1982) Untitled (Woman talking to animals) (1981) is swarming with animals, as his drawings characterize it, recalling his rural upbringing on a farm in Fayetteville, Georgia. In this work, two human figures hover in a dreamlike space alongside some twenty animals, including birds, dogs and snakes. Rowe’s use of the paper resist creates a feeling of openness, even porosity, amid the density of her marks, which extend from edge to edge of the sheet.
Thornton Dial (1928-2016) Life goes on (1990) includes watercolor, acrylic and graphite. When Dial started drawing in 1990, he experimented with different materials and papers. In this first example, created on heavy, handmade paper, a bird’s nest rests on a woman’s head. With exposed breasts and flushed cheeks, and surrounded by lush green plants, she is a symbol of fertility and life force.
Purvis Young (1943-2010) Sometimes I get the thrill of the game (1980), composed of a ballpoint pen and a marker on paper pasted on a found book, is inspired by old masters like El Greco. Young elongated and expressionist figures painted in dynamic groups. He created his paintings and drawings on a variety of found mediums including panels, paper and, as in this example, books. Sometimes I get the thrill of the game is filled with drawings of men playing basketball and soccer. As the book’s title and images suggest, Young saw sport as a space of freedom and liberation from the oppressive conditions that governed the lives of black men he knew.
Morgan Director Colin B. Bailey said: “We are delighted to be able to acquire this group of works on paper from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation and are pleased to present them now in the intimate space of our Thaw Gallery. . The acquisition represents a significant addition to Morgan’s collections. With the selection of a small group of loans, Another Tradition presents itself as a magnetic element of Morgan’s fall exhibition season.
“The acquisition of eleven works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in 2018 has deeply enriched our collection of modern and contemporary drawings,” said exhibition curator Rachel Federman, associate curator of modern and contemporary drawings at Morgan. “Black artists from the South have contributed immensely to the visual culture of the United States with extraordinary quilts and assemblage sculptures, but also, as this exhibition clearly shows, in the realm of drawing.”
A range of engaging public programs will accompany the exhibition. Please visit themorgan.org for details.