Thursday, January 26, 2017

“Expanding Tradition: Selections from the Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Collection”

Mildred Thompson, Open Window Series V, 1977
Opening this Saturday, “Expanding Tradition: Selections from the Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Collection” is the highly anticipated showcase of over 50 works by artists in the Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Collection of African American Art and celebrates the inception of the Thompsons’ endowed curatorship, currently held by Dr. Shawnya L. Harris. “Expanding Tradition” builds upon the 2009 exhibition “Tradition Redefined: The Larry and Brenda Thompson Collection of African American Art,” organized by the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora at the University of Maryland, College Park.

In 2011, the Thompsons donated 100 works of art to the Georgia Museum of Art, and this exhibition provides an overview of certain aspects of the Thompsons’ commitment to art collecting over the last several decades, in tandem with discussions about the shifting artistic and political landscape for African American artists found in their collection. Artists include contemporary artists such as Willie Cole, Whitfield Lovell, Kevin Cole and Kara Walker as well as historical artists such as Elizabeth Catlett, Charles Sebree, Beauford Delaney and Benny Andrews. Rare Great Depression–era works by Norman Lewis, Charles White, Dox Thrash and Rose Piper will also be exhibited.

Left to right: Larry D. Thompson, Shawnya L. Harris and Brenda A. Thompson

“Expanding Tradition: Selections from the Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Collection” is on view from January 28 to May 7, 2017. The accompanying catalogue, published by the museum, features a statement of the history and meaning of their many years of collecting as well as a lead essay by Harris, which provides a detailed survey of the artists in the exhibition.

Related events include:

90 Carlton: Winter, the museum’s quarterly reception (free for members of the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art, $5 non-members)
Friday, February 10 at 5:30 p.m.

Tour at Two with curator Shawnya Harris
Wednesday, February 15 at 2 p.m.

“Conversation on Collecting,” a discussion with the Thompsons and Curlee Raven Holton, executive director of the David C. Driskell Center
Thursday, February 23 at 5:30 p.m.

Black History Month Dinner ($55 members, $75 nonmembers)
Friday, February 24 at 6 p.m.

“Artful Conversation,” hosted in the galleries by assistant curator of education Sage Kincaid
Wednesday, March 22 at 2 p.m.

Artists’ Panel Discussion
Thursday, March 23, time TBA

Family Day
Saturday, April 15, 10 a.m. to noon

All events are free and open to the public unless otherwise indicated.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

“To Spin a Yarn: Distaffs, Folk Art and Material Culture” — Explaining Distaffs

“To Spin a Yarn: Distaffs, Folk Art and Material Culture” opens this Saturday, January 21, and runs through April 16. Sponsored by the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art and organized by the Stephen F. Austin State University Galleries, this exhibition consists of about 40 decorated wooden distaffs from the collection of Michael T. Ricker.

Detail of a short-form distaff, 1845 (Sweden, probably Vätö, Uppland)

The biggest question we get when discussing the exhibition is: What’s a distaff? 

A distaff is a tool used in spinning, which is the process of converting raw fibers — like wool just sheared off the sheep — into thread or yarn. Until the rise of manufacturing in the late 1700s and early 1800s, spinning was an important art as it was the only way to produce thread or yarn for weaving into cloth and textiles. Distaffs were used to hold raw wool or fiber (for example, linen or cotton) in position during spinning and could also be used in conjunction with a spinning wheel.

Dating from the 19th and 20th centuries, the distaffs featured in “To Spin a Yarn” come from regions across Europe (in Russia, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, France, Germany, Albania, Greece, Serbia and Bosnia), each of which has its own style. Visitors will see three different types of distaffs. Distaffs from Russia often featured a large base for the spinner to sit and use her weight to hold up the distaff. Short ones with no base sometimes attached to a spinning wheel. Long distaffs without a base could be held under the arm, tucked in the belt or, as seen in the video, tucked between the knees. Here a woman in Breb, Romania, uses a distaff in the traditional manner, working with raw wool by hand.

The museum will also show a “walking wheel,” or large spinning wheel, in the exhibition from its own collection, which was donated in 1997 but has never been on view. All three types of distaffs can be used with a spinning wheel or a drop spindle. The wheel creates the momentum needed to wind thread around a spindle or bobbin, while drop spindles are weighted to create the same spinning momentum to collect the thread. In the video demonstration by spinner Pegg Thomas below, she holds a small amount of llama roving (fibers brushed in one direction and ready for spinning) in her hand as she turns the wheel to wind the fiber around the spindle. If she were to use a distaff, the roving would have been wrapped around the distaff.

Distaffs were more than tools. Originally simple sticks, distaffs evolved into highly decorated objects with intense cultural significance, more important for their meanings than for their function. In some ways, they were the equivalent of an engagement ring today: a gift from a young man to his hoped-for spouse. A more expensive and elaborately decorated distaff expressed wealth and status. The time and money spent on these objects help to show the important place of cloth in a pre-industrial era. Today, we appreciate these diverse distaff traditions as splendid examples of folk art and material culture.

Distaff, early 20th century (Russia, Archangel province, Puchuga village)
Events related to the exhibition include:

All events are free and open to the public unless otherwise indicated.

Stella Tran
Department of Communications

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Abstract Expressionism Exhibitions Opening This Weekend

"The Irascibles," 1950. Photo by Nina Leen.
Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
"Advanced and Irascible: Abstract Expressionism from the Collection of Jeanne and Carroll Berry" and companion exhibition "Artists of the New York School" open this Saturday, January 14, and run together through March 19.

"Advanced and Irascible", which closes on April 30, showcases the efforts of collectors Jeanne and Carroll Berry to gather one work by each of the so-called “Irascible” painters of abstract expressionism. The Irascibles earned their nickname after sending a signed, open letter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to protest the lack of what they called “advanced” art in its exhibition of contemporary artists in 1950. Artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Willem de Kooning, Hedda Sterne and Ad Reinhardt are represented. In their letter, the artists wrote, “for roughly a hundred years, only advanced art has made any consequential contribution to civilization.”

Characterized by large, gestural paintings, the Irascibles defined the abstract expressionist movement and influenced the trajectory of modern art. A photograph of them, published by Life Magazine in 1951, became the defining image of the abstract expressionists for the remainder of the 20th century.

Almost ready: waiting for the accompanying wall labels to be mounted.
"Artists of the New York School" features works from the museum's permanent collection and several private collections. Containing paintings, sculptures and works on paper, the show highlights artistic trends of the “New York School,” or artists who were active in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s and primarily worked in abstraction. Works by female artists such as Louise Nevelson, Michael (Corrine) West, Helen Frankenthaler and Anne Ryan are included, along with works by artists Robert Goodnough, James Brooks, Frank Stella, Philip Guston and Gerome Kamroski.

An untitled metal sculpture by Robert Goodnough was a gift to the museum in 2016 and will be on view for the first time in the exhibition. An eight-foot-high mixed-media work by Fritz Bultman that uses gouache and collage is a highlight, as is an untitled tall wood sculpture by Nevelson.

Although diverse in medium and technique, the artists of the New York School were key in establishing the United States as a place that welcomed avant-garde art. While visibly influenced by art movements that originated in Europe, such as surrealism and abstraction, the New York School artists innovated in terms of content and material.

Events related to the exhibitions include:

• Irascibles Film Series: “Painters Painting”
Thursday, January 26, 7 p.m.

• Irascibles Film Series: “Pollock”
Thursday, February 2, 7 p.m.

• Artful Conversation: in-depth gallery discussion with Callan Steinmann, associate curator of education 
Wednesday, February 8, 2 p.m.

• Irascibles Film Series: “Robert Motherwell and the New York School: Storming the Citadel”
Thursday, February 9, 7 p.m.

• 90 Carlton: Winter, the museum’s quarterly reception ($5, free for members of the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art)
Friday, February 10, 5:30–8:30 p.m.

• Family Day: Abstract Valentines
Saturday, February 11, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

• Tour at Two: public tour with Sarah Kate Gillespie, curator of American art 
Wednesday, February 22, 2 p.m.

All events are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

The Art of Giving – Commit to Georgia

The University of Georgia launched its billion-dollar capital campaign, Commit to Georgia, on November 10, and as part of the campaign, the museum is tasked with raising more than $20 million over the next few years. The campaign has three priorities that shape its focus: increasing access for students from Georgia and beyond, enhancing the student experience and solving world problems through research and service. So how does the Georgia Museum of Art fit into all of that?

Heather Malcom (right), with Cyndy Harbold, president of the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art
First and foremost, the museum is committed to its role within the University of Georgia. Our mission includes the same three pillars as that of the university: teaching, research and service. Our public service is the easiest aspect to see. We serve tens of thousands of visitors a year and bring free visual arts education across the state to communities that need it.

We educate at the same time. We lead gallery tours. We provide a hands-on teaching venue for university students in all disciplines. We supply K–12 teachers with materials that meet state standards at no cost. And we produce the next generation of museum professionals through experiential learning. Finally, we are committed to research. Our curators are faculty members, and every exhibition we organize begins with hours in the library. We’re rewriting art history every day, documenting Georgia’s history and making connections among disciplines.

Though we rely on private gifts for all our programming, numbers aren’t the whole story. When Larry and Brenda Thompson gave us 100 works by African American artists and endowed a curatorial position to focus on that understudied area of art history, their gift served the same three priorities as the campaign. Increasing access isn’t just about scholarships. It’s about making students from a wide variety of backgrounds feel like they belong and providing them with an unparalleled experience while they’re here. The Thompsons’ gift, now reflected in our reinstalled galleries, pushed us toward greater inclusiveness.

That spirit of inclusiveness has also enhanced the student experience, providing models for students of diverse backgrounds to see themselves represented in art. And by validating the importance of all creators, the Thompsons’ gift brings us together as humans, uniting us instead of dividing us. That kind of commitment to the differences that art can make in the lives of individuals is exactly what we’ll be asking of you in the coming years. Together, we can change lives through art.

Heather Malcom
Director of Development