NEW YORK, NY.- The Morgan Library & Museum
presents Another Tradition: Drawings by Black Artists from the American South, opening September 24, 2021, and running through January 16, 2022. This exhibition celebrates the Morgans 2018 acquisition of eleven drawings from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting Black Southern artists 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 by Rowe, Lonnie Holley, Sister Gertrude Morgan, and Bill Traylor.
In the last three decades, exhibitions and publications have established the rightful place of figures such as Dial and the quilters of Gees Bend, Alabama, in the canon of twentieth-century art. The focus has often been on the impressive works of assemblagewhether of found objects or fabricthat have emerged from the Southern United States. Artists only one or two generations removed from slavery, and subjected to the abuses of Jim Crow, developed ingenious formal techniques using found materials and skills learned outside the classroom and studio. Many, like Dial, Rowe, and Holley, exhibited their creations at their homes in elaborate yard shows, drawing the attention of passersby and art-world figures alike.
Another Tradition focuses on the genre of drawing, which, like assemblage, is an art of making do. Its accessibility and directness have always appealed to both artists and their audiences. While some works in the exhibition were produced on traditional artists papers, others incorporate the unique qualities of found supports. The range of media includes watercolor, ballpoint pen, crayon, and even glitter. But the impact of these works ultimately transcends their innovative means. Although each of the eight artists represented speaks with a distinctive voice, the intimate space of the Morgans Thaw Gallery illuminates formal and thematic connections that arise from their shared geographies and experiences.
Highlights of the exhibition include Rowes Untitled (Woman Talking to Animals), Dials Life Go On, and Youngs Sometimes I Get Emotion from the Game. Nellie Mae Rowes (19001982) Untitled (Woman Talking to Animals) (1981) teems with animals, as is characteristic of her drawings, recalling her 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. Rowes use of the papers reserve creates a feeling of openness, even porousness, amid the density of her marks, which extend from edge to edge of the sheet. Thornton Dials (19282016) Life Go On (1990) comprises watercolor, acrylic, and graphite. When Dial took up drawing in 1990, he experimented with different materials and papers. In this early exampl created on heavy, handmade papera birds nest rests atop a womans head. With exposed breasts and rouged cheeks, and surrounded by lush green plants, she is a symbol of fertility and life force. Purvis Youngs (19432010) Sometimes I Get Emotion from the Game (1980), made of ballpoint pen and marker on paper glued to a found book, was inspired by Old Masters such as El Greco. Young painted elongated, expressionistic figures in dynamic groups. He created his paintings and drawings on a variety of found supports, including panel, paper, andas in this examplebooks. Sometimes I Get Emotion from the Game is filled with drawings of men playing basketball and football. As the books title and imagery suggest, Young viewed sports as a space of freedom and release from the oppressive conditions that governed the lives of the Black men he knew.
The Morgans Director, Colin B. Bailey, said, We were delighted to be able to acquire this group of works on paper from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation and we are pleased to present them now in the intimate space of our Thaw Gallery. The acquisition represents a significant addition to the Morgans collections. With the selection of a small group of loans, Another Tradition stands as a magnetic component in the Morgans fall season of exhibitions.
The acquisition of eleven works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in 2018 profoundly enriched our collection of modern and contemporary drawings, said exhibition curator Rachel Federman, the Morgans Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Drawings. Black artists from the South have contributed tremendously to the visual culture of the United States with extraordinary quilts and assemblage sculptures, but also, as this exhibition makes clear, in the realm of drawing.