High Museum announces acquisitions from 2022 collectors evening

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High Museum announces acquisitions from 2022 collectors evening
Lonnie Holley (American, born 1950), Shadows of the People, 2021, acrylic and spray paint on quilted fabric on wood panel, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds provided by patrons of Collectors Evening 2022. © Lonnie Holley.

ATLANTA, GA.- The High Museum of Art welcomed more than 100 guests for Collectors Evening on May 19 to support the acquisition of two new works for the Museum’s collection. The acquired objects are Atlanta-based artist Lonnie Holley’s mixed-media work “Shadows of the People” (2021) and a 1913 painting, “Brown the Wheats,” by American artist Samuel Johnson Woolf.

“After a three-year hiatus, we were delighted to come together with our generous donors to celebrate Collectors Evening,” said Rand Suffolk, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director of the High. “The event was a resounding success for our curatorial departments and a wonderful chance to bring our patrons into the acquisition process. The attendees voted to bring some incredible works into the collection, which we are very excited to share with Atlanta.”

Collectors Evening, established in 2010 to help the Museum acquire artworks, invites guests to take an active role in choosing the next works to join the collection. At the event, guests enjoy a seated dinner, curatorial presentations for the proposed works and voting for their favorite choices. Since the inception of Collectors Evening, attendees have supported the acquisition of 71 artworks for the Museum’s collection.

“These works align with our commitment to acquiring exceptional works of art that represent diverse perspectives and provide meaningful opportunities for us to foster a multitude of dialogues across our collections,” said Kevin W. Tucker, the High’s chief curator. “We look forward to featuring them prominently in future installations and exhibitions.”

Folk and Self-Taught Art

Lonnie Holley is an internationally acclaimed visual and performing artist from Birmingham, Alabama, who has called Atlanta home for the past 30 years. A 2022 recipient of the highly coveted United States Artist Fellowship, Holley distinguishes himself as the only artist with major works in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Tate who has also opened for indie rock legends like Animal Collective and finds time to engage in countless public art commissions and community-based workshops.

“Shadows of the People” (2021), which features acrylic and spray paint on a found quilt, is from a new body of work that Holley began while he was in a residency at the Elaine de Kooning House in the Hamptons in 2020 and that earned him a major New York Times profile last May. The title of this work refers to Holley’s ongoing dedication to uplifting the legacies of marginalized people, embodying them through the liminal form of the silhouette, a motif that is ubiquitous across his two- and three-dimensional works. Holley has long used textiles in his assemblages and installations, drawing upon their power as a symbol of women’s labor, but this is the first time he has used them on a large scale as surfaces for his paintings. He said of the layered “shadows” found throughout his quilt paintings, “Every face in these paintings. They’re all the people — especially women — that have supported me.” This body of work will be featured in his debut exhibition at the leading contemporary art gallery Blum & Poe later this summer.

“Shadows of the People” is the most recent of Holley’s work in the High’s collection, which now spans his more than 40-year career and includes over a dozen works.

American Art

With his 1913 oil on canvas “Brown the Wheats,” Samuel Johnson Woolf situates himself as an artist of social conscience. In the wake of the Gilded Age, economic disparities had become increasingly visible, nowhere more prominently than in New York, where Woolf had grown up in a family of modest means. The appeal of this work, which won an award when exhibited in 1913, may have been not only its sympathetic message but also its real-life setting that would have been familiar to many.

In the painting, a boy stands on the street outside Childs’ Restaurant, the first location of a well-known 20th-century restaurant chain designed as an economical, quick and clean environment with wholesome food at reasonable prices. To emphasize the cleanliness of the establishments (then a rarity for many public dining halls), restaurants were furnished with white tiled walls and floors and servers and chefs dressed in starched white uniforms. The interior design always featured a griddle near the window to entice customers with a view of the chefs preparing flapjacks and other delectables.

Woolf depicts an inviting scene, a restaurant packed with customers and busy servers while a chef prepares buckwheat pancakes in the foreground. Lights gleam across the shiny white tiles, and a display of fruits — oranges and grapefruits topped with a then-exotic pineapple — suggests the wholesome and quality food on offer. By contrast, the hungry boy peering from the outside is emblematic of an age of haves and have nots.

Although the High’s American Art collection includes other great works from the early 20th century, “Brown the Wheats” is the first to address some of the social issues, such as economic inequality, that were prevalent in the United States in the wake of the Gilded Age.

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