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African-American Art from the MFAH Collection
February 22 - May 9, 2004
Major works from the African-American art collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will be shown together for the first time in an exhibition opening February 22, 2004. African-American Art from the MFAH Collection presents 65 works highlighting two of the collection's primary strengths: photography offering a compelling interpretation of African-American life and works in other media by Texas artists. The exhibition will be on view through May 9 in the museum's Caroline Wiess Law Building, 1001 Bissonnet Street.
"The museum has long been dedicated to collecting works by African-American artists, beginning in 1950 with the acquisition of Henry O. Tanner's Flight into Egypt," said Peter C. Marzio, MFAH director. "Now the collection numbers more than 400, making it the largest of any mainstream museum in the United States. This exhibition demonstrates that these are not only great works by African-American artists, they are simply great works." (right: Henry Ossawa Tanner, American, 1859-1937, Flight into Egypt, 1921, oil on board, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, gift of Mrs. Evan W. Burris)
A major impetus for the growth of the collection has been the MFAH support organization known as Five-A (African American Art Advisory Association). Membership dues have supported the acquisition of numerous works by major artists such as Richmond Barthé, John Biggers, Lois Mailou Jones, and Trenton Doyle Hancock.
"The MFAH, through the enthusiasm of its administrators and Five-A members, has made this collection a priority," says Alvia Wardlaw, curator of modern and contemporary art, who is installing the exhibition. "This exhibition shows the distinct character of the collection from photographs by Roy DeCarava and Louise Ozell Martin, to works by Carroll Harris Simms and John Biggers, who so influenced artistic activity in 20th-century Houston, to contemporary works by Houston-based artists Karyn Olivier, Bert Long, David McGee, and Tierney Malone."
Among the highlights of the exhibition is Tanner's Flight into Egypt. A bishop's son, Tanner often painted religious scenes that transcend their biblical sources. In this 1921 painting, he depicts the New Testament story of Mary and Joseph's flight into Egypt, a theme that resonated with the plight of African-Americans.
Vicki Meek's The Crying Room: A Memorial to the Ancestors (1992) is a room-size installation that presents slave-trade records along with ideographic symbols of the ancestral realm from Nigeria's Yoruba people, invoking the continuity of traditions from Africa to America. Meek, a Dallas artist, said the memorial "is meant to allow us to remember and grieve for all those many ancestors whose lives were sacrificed."
Recently acquired work titled Roosevelt by Thornton Dial, Sr. will also be featured. Dial, a self-taught artist, creates works that fuse the boundaries between painting and sculpture, placing him squarely within the arena of contemporary artists who constantly forge ahead into new visual territory. Much of his work is inspired by his response to social and political events that occur around him.
African-American Art from MFAH Collection is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Alvia J. Wardlaw, MFAH curator of modern and contemporary art, is installing the exhibition.
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