The museums at Atlanta’s HBCUs are treasure troves of Black artwork

Working example: a portray owned by the traditionally Black school — “Lady 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 in all 5 items from Clark Atlanta that can be within the Met’s exhibit beginning the tip of February.

Two years in the past, Clark Atlanta hosted an extremely widespread 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 may 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 a long time amassing 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 Faculty from 1888 to 1890, lengthy earlier than Clark merged with Atlanta College to develop into 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 part of the college 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 impression 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.

Credit score: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit score: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

However one in all Woodruff’s most important contributions to the college 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-about at one level the “École des Beaux-Arts” of the Black South, in line 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 value greater than $100 million, in line with Taylor, although it is going to be reappraised quickly.

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

“I feel that it is a distinctive place as a result of you possibly can come and see world-class exhibitions without spending a dime,” mentioned Liz Andrews, govt director of the Spelman Faculty Museum of Positive Artwork. “You understand that you’ll stroll away with a deeper data of historical past and up to date matters with a concentrate on Black ladies. … 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 up to date 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 up to date Atlanta artists like Fahamu Pecou, the late Radcliffe Bailey, Morehouse professor Krista Clark and Sheila Pree Vivid.

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

Credit score: AP

Credit score: AP

An artwork historical past schooling

Regardless of a long time of providing artwork schooling, the Atlanta College Middle 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 12 months the school renewed the grant, receiving this time $6.5 million for the subsequent three years, in line with Cheryl Finley, the collective’s founding director.

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

The collective gives 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.

Credit score: Particular

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 couple of piece or a present. Filmore was engaged on her paper when she noticed professors chatting with 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 infinite assist that I’ve obtained from folks is what made it potential for me,” mentioned Filmore.

Small however mighty

Within the fall, Spelman held a present of 21 work and combined 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 characterize 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 the 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 Could 24.

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

Credit score: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit score: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

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

“I’m having to construct this neighborhood … that helps us financially. We’re a little bit 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 at all times 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 so much to study 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 amassing 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 essential 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 flooring 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, dwelling tableau that reveals the final word fact of the AUC museums: everyone seems to be worthy of being thought-about an artist, everyone seems to be worthy of being thought-about artwork. That’s the place the treasure actually lies.

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