The HBCUs in Atlanta are treasure troves of Black artwork

Working example: a portray owned by the traditionally Black school — “Girl in Blue” by William H. Johnson — is the featured picture for the “Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism” exhibition at New York’s famed Metropolitan Museum of Artwork. It’s one among 5 items from Clark Atlanta that will probably be within the Met’s exhibit beginning the tip of February.

Two years in the past, Clark Atlanta hosted an extremely well-liked week-long exhibition of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s early works.

And the historical past of Black artwork from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty first centuries could be seen by the greater than 1,600 objects — work, sculptures, textiles, murals and extra — within the everlasting collections of the Clark Atlanta and Spelman museums.

It’s a historical past of oppression, of magnificence, of survival, of constructing do, of surpassing circumstances.

Credit score: Particular

Credit score: Particular

The artwork historical past of the AUC

The Clark Atlanta museum has spent the previous eight many years gathering African American and diasporic artwork and has a major assortment from the interval between the early twentieth century Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Motion.

Works by Henry Ossawa Tanner, who the Smithsonian calls “[t]he most distinguished African-American artist of the nineteenth century,” are a part of each Spelman and Clark’s collections.

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However earlier than he was a famed painter, Tanner was a professor at Clark School from 1888 to 1890, lengthy earlier than Clark merged with Atlanta College to grow to be CAU. Whereas in Atlanta, Tanner met a benefactor that sponsored a visit to Paris, the place he grew his profession and have become the primary Black American artist to obtain worldwide acclaim.

In 1931, an influential artist would be a part of the school of Atlanta College, Hale Woodruff. Whereas a professor, Woodruff studied mural portray with famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera. He would later paint six huge canvas panels, the “Artwork of the Negro” murals, that depict the cultural historical past of African and indigenous artwork kinds and their affect on Western artwork and have been studied by worldwide students.

The murals line the atrium of the CAU Artwork Museum, sitting above the cardboard catalogs that nod to the house’s former life as a library.

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However one among Woodruff’s most important contributions to the varsity was a juried competitors that he began in 1942, the Atlanta Artwork Annual.

The competitors would go on yearly till 1970, and in that point, about 900 Black artists from across the nation participated and 291 of their works have been bought by the college, creating the inspiration of the CAU assortment.

Woodruff’s educating and contributions to the Atlanta College artwork division boosted its prominence, a lot in order that it was thought of at one level the “École des Beaux-Arts” of the Black South, in keeping with the Smithsonian American Artwork Museum, a reference to the famed French faculty that produced famend artists like Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas and John Singer Sargent.

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CAU’s assortment now has greater than 1,200 works and is probably going price greater than $100 million, in keeping with Taylor, although will probably be reappraised quickly.

And the collections on the CAU and Spelman museums mirror the missions of the establishments the place they’re based mostly.

“I feel that this can be a distinctive place as a result of you possibly can come and see world-class exhibitions without cost,” mentioned Liz Andrews, govt director of the Spelman School Museum of Positive Artwork. “You understand that you’ll stroll away with a deeper data of historical past and modern matters with a concentrate on Black girls. … There’s no place within the nation that does that.”

Credit score: Olivia Bowdoin

Credit score: Olivia Bowdoin

Spelman has about 450 works in its everlasting assortment, primarily by Black feminine artists. It consists of works by the modern painter and Spelman alumna Calida Garcia Rawles and famed sculptor Elizabeth Catlett.

Andrews mentioned Spelman additionally has the most important assortment of works by the sculptor Selma Burke, who’s the artist behind the portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt used on the dime. Spelman has the unique aid that was miniaturized onto the coin.

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CAU and Spelman have additionally collected modern Atlanta artists like Fahamu Pecou, the late Radcliffe Bailey, Morehouse professor Krista Clark and Sheila Pree Shiny.

And the AUC has not simply collected well-known artists, however produced them as effectively. Amy Sherald, the artist behind the official portrait of former First Girl Michelle Obama, attended Clark Atlanta and took portray courses at Spelman.

Credit score: AP

Credit score: AP

An artwork historical past schooling

Regardless of many years of providing artwork schooling, the Atlanta College Heart didn’t have an artwork historical past diploma till six years in the past, when the AUC Artwork Historical past and Curatorial Research Collective was launched.

It was created in response to a 2015 examine by the Andrew W. Mellon Basis that discovered solely 16% of American museum management positions have been held by minorities, regardless of making up 38% of the inhabitants. Solely 4% of leaders have been Black and simply 3% have been Hispanic.

In 2018, Spelman obtained a $5.4 million grant from the Walton Household Basis that went to establishing the AUC artwork collective. Late final yr the school renewed the grant, receiving this time $6.5 million for the following three years, in keeping with Cheryl Finley, the collective’s founding director.

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“Artwork historical past is our legacy,” mentioned Finley.

The collective provides an artwork historical past main and minor in addition to a minor in curatorial research. Upperclassmen are positioned in paid summer time internships and there’s a summer time early school program open to highschool college students around the globe.

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Credit score: Particular

Destinee Filmore was one of many first graduates of the AUC artwork collective. She graduated from Spelman in 2021 with a level in artwork historical past. Throughout her time in this system, she interned on the Cleveland Museum of Artwork and was accepted right into a prestigious curatorial fellowship for her graduate research.

Her journey to being a curator began within the Spelman artwork museum. Each freshman should take African Diaspora and the World courses, which brings them into the museum to write down a few piece or a present. Filmore was engaged on her paper when she noticed professors talking to a small group of scholars within the museum. She eavesdropped on the lesson when the professors invited her to hitch. A number of weeks later they invited her to an artwork historical past colloquium in Washington.

“It was so electrifying, I’d by no means gone to a convention like that,” mentioned Filmore. “I used to be form of smitten since then.”

In January, she began a brand new job as an assistant curator on the Met, a rarity for a 25-year-old curator.

“The issues I realized at Spelman, the connections that I’ve made, the relationships that I preserve, and actually the kind of limitless assist that I’ve obtained from folks is what made it doable for me,” mentioned Filmore.

Small however mighty

Within the fall, Spelman held a present of 21 work and blended media works by Harmonia Rosales, an Afro-Cuban American artist. In one of many showstoppers of the exhibit, Rosales reimagined Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. An overturned boat meant to signify slave ships served because the ceiling and was plastered with miniatures of her detailed, gilded oil work that merge tales of the West African Yorùbá tradition with Greek mythology and Christianity.

Andrews positioned a portray depicting the transatlantic slave commerce, “The Migration of the Gods,” in the identical room because the ship and on a wall that confronted in direction of the Atlantic in a kind of prayerful meditation.

Credit score: Olivia Bowdoin

Credit score: Olivia Bowdoin

On Friday, Spelman opened its newest exhibit, “Threaded.” It consists of quilts from Spelman and Clark Atlanta’s collections created by the Gee’s Bend Quilt Collective, a well-known Alabama group of Black feminine quilters which have carried the custom down from their enslaved ancestors. The present goes by Might 24.

The CAU museum at present has on show an array of works from its everlasting assortment, CAU college and an artist-in-residence.

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However the actuality is that, although mighty, these are small museums.

“I’m having to construct this group … that helps us financially. We’re somewhat bit ranging from scratch,” mentioned Clark Atlanta’s Taylor.

However for Andrews, coming to the Spelman artwork museum from the a lot bigger Los Angeles County Museum of Artwork within the fall of 2021 was a “no brainer.” She mentioned she had all the time admired Spelman and had a deep respect for the museum, which others are additionally beginning to see.

“I feel that in a post-2020 second, there was a renewed and even model new curiosity for lots of people in studying from HBCUs,” Andrews mentioned.

Museums just like the one in Los Angeles the place Andrews beforehand labored and even Atlanta’s Excessive Museum of Artwork, she mentioned, “have lots to be taught from these museums as a result of the work that locations like CAU, Spelman … have been doing across the arts for many years, the artists we’ve been upholding and exhibiting and gathering are the very artists who’ve been barred from exhibiting at main establishments for a very long time.”

Credit score: Olivia Bowdoin

Credit score: Olivia Bowdoin

The museums additionally serve an vital mission, not simply within the artwork they gather, however in who they educate. Taylor mentioned the CAU museum is commonly college students’ first publicity to an artwork museum.

When college students stroll in to Spelman’s artwork museum, they see the cherry wooden floors gleaming, the varnish shined to a mirror-finish. The artwork on the partitions displays on the ground as do the guests, the 2 merging to create a brand new, residing tableau that reveals the last word fact of the AUC museums: everyone seems to be worthy of being thought of an artist, everyone seems to be worthy of being thought of artwork. That’s the place the treasure actually lies.

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