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Tufts University Art Galleries shows American Outsider Art from the Andrew and Linda Safran Collection
Howard Finster, Rhino, 1990. Paint on cut board. Tufts University Permanent Collections. Gift of Andrew and Linda Safran.

MEDFORD, MASS.- The Tufts University Art Galleries presents "Expressions Unbound: American Outsider Art from the Andrew and Linda Safran Collection," from Aug. 29 through Dec. 16, 2018. A public opening reception will take place on Thursday, Sept. 6, at 5:30 p.m. in the Remis Sculpture Court at the Shirley and Alex Aidekman Arts Center, 40 Talbot Avenue, in Medford, Mass.

“Expressions Unbound" celebrates the recent gift of American outsider art to Tufts University from Tufts and Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy alumnus Andrew and Linda Safran, the first major contribution of American outsider art to the school and the largest single-collection gift of work predominantly by African-American artists in the university’s history. The collection brings together some of the foremost self-taught artists of the 20th century, including Thornton Dial, Bessie Harvey, William L. Hawkins, Mary T. Smith, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, and Purvis Young and marks an unprecedented moment for Tufts University’s Permanent Art Collection, which is, at its very core, a teaching collection. This grouping of paintings, sculptures, and drawings joins the university’s existing holdings of key American artists, from Louise Nevelson to Grant Wood, to articulate a more robust and diverse narrative of 20th century American art for the future scholarship of faculty and students.

The exhibition highlights 19 artists known for their transformative use of materials—ranging from paint and pencil, to dirt and found wood—to visualize bold and deeply personal narratives. Whether rooted in experience, religious fervor, or in mythological and historical references, the works in "Expressions Unbound" exemplify vernacular practices that have long lived outside and beyond the academic structure, but have had enormous impact on visual culture and the arts. The galleries will present an accompanying full-color publication with texts by art historian Evie T. Joselow, Ph.D., documenting the entire Safran Collection, and tracing the development of these artists and their work.

Featured artists include: Charles Benefiel, David Butler, Raymond Coins, Sanford Darling, Thornton Dial, Thornton Dial, Jr., Howard Finster, Ray Hamilton, Bessie Harvey, William L. Hawkins, Justin McCarthy, Malcom McKesson, Benjamin (B.F.) Perkins, John (Jack) Savitsky, Mary T. Smith, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Mose (Moses Ernest) Tolliver, Willie (Lamendola) Willie, and Purvis Young.

The works in this exhibition are particularly meaningful to the Safrans, who selected the art together over a number of years before gifting the collection to Tufts in 2017. The Safrans said they were first drawn to the pieces because of their "stunning color and imagery."

"We really admired the simplicity as well as the visual impact of our first acquisition, 'Hippo' by William L. Hawkins. It was compelling and it drew us in. We immediately wanted to know more about the artist and his work," said Linda Safran. "As we began to explore the work of more and more outsider artists we saw that they had such passion and so much desire to create, that they often made use of readily available materials in order to share their experiences and their visions."

The collection affirms the university’s commitment to diversity of experiences and perspectives, and diversifies its permanent collection to better reflect the make-up of its community.

"At Tufts, we believe that anyone with passion and engagement can make a difference and contribute to or change the conversation – in society, in science or in scholarship – regardless of background or opportunity," added James Glaser, dean of Tufts' School of Arts and Sciences. "Outsider art embodies that inclusive and democratic spirit. This addition to the permanent collection will allow Tufts students, faculty and all other members of our community who are art lovers, to study and enjoy these artists' works."

Programming associated with this exhibit includes the panel discussion "Does Education Make an Artist?", to be held on Thursday, Nov. 8, at 4:30 p.m. in the Galleries. The predominantly self-taught artists in the "Expressions Unbound" exhibition prompt scholars to consider how artists have been trained and identified throughout history. The panelists in attendance will discuss the evolving role of art pedagogy from the 14th-century atelier, to the Bauhaus, to current trends in studio-driven graduate degrees.

Panelists for "Does Education Make an Artist?" include Caroline Woolard, artist, assistant professor of sculpture at University of Hartford, and the co-founder of BFAMFAPHD; Chiara Pidatella, research curator at Tufts University Art Galleries; Jamie Franklin, curator at Bennington Museum; and Jacob Stewart-Halevy, assistant professor of art history at Tufts.

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