When the Georgia Museum of Art first opened its doors after construction of the new additions and renovations to the facility, one of the first exhibitions to grace our halls was “Tradition Redefined: The Larry and Brenda Thompson Collection of African American Art.”
Initially, the collection was a travelling exhibition from a private collection and organized by the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Arts and Culture of African American and the African Diaspora at the University of Maryland, College Park. “Tradition Redefined” comprises 72 works dating from 2007 back to the 1890s. The 67 artists, both celebrated and regional, who produced these paintings and sculptures were picked by the Thompsons for their “untraditional” narratives and conventions of presenting African American art and the African American diaspora. Little did we know, however, that the exhibition would become a prized component of our permanent collection.
The Thompsons generously donated their collection to the museum in 2011, during the 50th-anniversary celebration of the University of Georgia’s desegregation, as well as providing the financial support to create a new curatorial position at the museum: the Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of the African Diaspora. This curator will oversee the museum’s collection of paintings, sculptures, and other artistic media by African and African American artists as well as being an adjunct faculty member of the Lamar Dodd School of Art. This is not the first time the Thompsons participated in the museum’s and the university’s academic affairs. Larry, as a former U.S. deputy attorney general, has spoken numerous times at the university since 2001, and taught for a brief time at UGA’s law school as the John A. Sibley Professor in Corporate and Business Law before being recalled to PepsiCo. Brenda currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the Barnes Foundation and the Board of the Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries. She also joined the museum’s Board of Advisors in 2011. Obviously, it would be a gross understatement to say that the Thompsons value education.
The collection itself has given more variety and depth to the museum’s new galleries, but for the moment it has moved on from GMOA. An exhibition such as this one should be shared with as many people as possible, and “Tradition Redefined” is currently on display at the Rice University Art Gallery in Houston, Texas, as part of the university’s centennial celebration, where it will be until Nov. 18. Along with 15 other commemorative exhibitions around Rice, “Tradition Redefined” will help highlight and celebrate the 100 years of change that transformed Rice from a small university close to the middle of nowhere to an international and educational success. After that, the collection will travel to Knoxville, Tenn., to be featured in the Knoxville Museum of Art April 11 through June 16, 2013.
If you have the opportunity to see "Tradition Redefined" at Rice, the Knoxville Museum of Art or elsewhere on the road, we hope you stop by and take a look at it, as well as at any of our other travelling exhibitions on tour. As part of our mission, GMOA supports and promotes the spread of the visual arts as tools of education, but it is up to our patrons, both near and far, to use them.