In 2014, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York acquired 57 works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, scholar and art collector William S. Arnett said that he hadn’t given the works to the High Museum because they had never asked him for a donation of artworks. Now, the High Museum of Art has acquired 54 works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. The combined gift and purchase is among the most significant for the High’s folk and self-taught art department, which was established in 1994.
In the interim, Souls Grown Deep hired high-profile former museum director Maxwell L. Anderson as its president, and the High has a new director in Rand Suffolk, which perhaps led to a shift in relations. In a press statement, Anderson said: “We are very pleased to add dozens of significant works to the High’s collection of contemporary art and look forward to years of future collaboration through insightful programming, displays and publications,”
The trove includes paintings, sculptures and works on paper by 33 contemporary African-American artists from the South, and adds 13 works by Thornton Dial (1928–2016) to the museum’s already substantial holdings of his work, the most of any museum. Highlights include Gee’s Bend quilts, works by Lonnie Holley and Ronald Lockett, whose survey at the High was recently on view [Oct. 9, 2016-Jan. 8, 2017], a significant group of paintings and sculpture by Joe Light, and individual works by such artists as Archie Byron, Mary T. Smith, Royal Robertson and Purvis Young. Artists that are new to the collection include Joe Minter and Richard Dial, Eldren Bailey, Charles Williams, Vernon Burwell and Georgia Speller.
The Souls Grown Deep Foundation has embarked on a strategic gift/purchase program to strengthen the representation of African-American artists from the Southern U.S. in museum collections across the country, which in addition to the Met has included the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco earlier this year [read the story here].
The acquisition is also the result of enlightened philanthropy. In 2014, the High was given $2.5 million by Atlanta-based patrons Dan Boone and his late wife Merrie Boone to endow a permanent, full-time curatorial position and grow the collection. Curator Katherine Jentleson joined the museum in 2015 and has added 177 artworks to the collection. She was also responsible for recent exhibitions “Green Pastures: In Memory of Thornton Dial, Sr.” (Feb. 13 through May 1, 2016), “A Cut Above: Wood Sculpture from the Gordon W. Bailey Collection” (May 14 through Oct. 30, 2016) and the solo retrospective “Fever Within: The Art of Ronald Lockett” (Oct. 9, 2016, through Jan. 8, 2017).
High Museum director Rand Suffolk said in a press statement: “This gift dovetails remarkably well with our existing collection—essentially adding strength on strength to one of the most distinctive and important collections of its kind. We’re grateful to the Souls Grown Deep Foundation for the opportunity to deepen our commitment to these artists and recognize their impact on contemporary art.”
Many of these newly acquired works will go on view in 2018, when the High will expand the physical footprint of the folk and self-taught art galleries by 30 percent as part of a permanent collection reinstallation.
Jentleson said: “When we unveil works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in our expanded galleries it will be a defining moment that makes undeniable the magnitude of achievement that has been realized by artists here in the South, regardless of their level of training. This is art that breaks boundaries and defies expectations, challenging long-held assumptions about where great art comes from and whom we acknowledge as the leading artists of our time.”