Highlights from an important private collection are now shown in separate exhibitions at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The works on view include loans and numerous transformative gifts to the respective museums from advocate, scholar and collector Gordon W. Bailey and reflect his decades-long advocacy on behalf of African American artists from the South. In the recent past, Los Angeles-based Bailey has gifted more than 500 artworks to American museums.
What I Know: Gifts from Gordon W. Bailey opened at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, June 26 and runs through October 11, 2021. The exhibition features artworks created with a variety of media by Leroy Almon, Thornton Dial Sr., Sam Doyle, Minnie Evans, Josephus Farmer, Roy Ferdinand, Bessie Harvey, Clementine Hunter, Joe Light, Ronald Lockett, Sister Gertrude Morgan, J.B. Murray, Sulton Rogers, Nellie Mae Rowe, Welmon Sharlhorne, Herbert Singleton, and Purvis Young.
“Gordon W. Bailey’s generous gifts are a welcome addition to our collection,” said Rod Bigelow, Crystal Bridges executive director and chief diversity and inclusion officer. “We’re grateful to be able to highlight and celebrate this array of inspiring works by African American artists who have made important contributions to the American art historical canon.”
Crystal Bridges revealed plans in April to double the size of its facilities. The expansion, in addition to enabling the museum to better showcase its growing collection and welcome more visitors to experience the power of art in an inclusive environment, allows for more exhibitions, educational and outreach initiatives, cultural programming and community events.
What I Know is the result of Bailey’s ongoing collaboration with Crystal Bridges and marks the museum’s first accession of these artists’ works into its permanent collection.
The artists’ motivations and practices differ; some were moved by divine inspiration, some shared sociopolitical observations, or mined indelible memories, but all of the artists imbued their impassioned works with wisdom gleaned from lives well lived.
Exhibition highlights include: Leroy Almon’s The Slave a carved-wood testament illuminating the history of enslavement in America; Thornton Dial Sr.’s Cocaine Dog a gritty metal sculpture of a drug-ravaged addict dragged behind a beast; Dr. Crow a house paint on tin roofing portrait of the Lowcountry root doctor by Gullah artist Sam Doyle, whose iconic portraits were collected by Jean-Michel Basquiat; Clementine Hunter’s poignant,1950s, oil painting Baptism; Ronald Lockett’s evocative contemplation Wolves Look Back; the subversive yet whimsical wood construction Haint House complete with 14 haints carved by Sulton Rogers; a near-seven-foot, recycled, oak door titled, Angola, Herbert Singleton’s bas-relief comment on the prison industrial complex; and large-scale works by Purvis Young including Angels Save the City, that speaks to struggle, triumph and divine deliverance.
Several superb works loaned by Bailey—those created by Evans, Harvey, Morgan and Rowe—add depth to What I Know.
According to Alejo Benedetti, Crystal Bridges associate curator of contemporary art: “Gordon's unwavering commitment to the accurate presentation of these artists has been essential to the success of this exhibition. More than just a donor or collector, through his persistent willingness to share his knowledge and time, he has repeatedly demonstrated what it means to be an artists’ advocate."
The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art presents Changing Tides: Gifts from Gordon W. Bailey on view now through February 8, 2022. Showcasing artworks recently gifted by Mr. Bailey, the exhibition represents an important new direction for the Ohr-O’Keefe, located in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Created with various media, the artworks testify to the enduring creative impulse that cuts across cultures, geography and generations. All of the featured artists are making their debuts in the museum’s expanding permanent collection.
“We are extending the reach of our exhibitions to include more national and international artists,” said Ohr-O’Keefe’s Executive Director David Houston, “Mr. Bailey’s thoughtful, transformative gift greatly enhances our collection and enables the museum over the coming decades to better serve its founding mission of documenting and celebrating both African American and Native American art and culture.”
African American artists Leroy Almon, David Butler, Richard Dial, Thornton Dial Sr., Minnie Evans, Roy Ferdinand, Sandy Hall, Clementine Hunter, Charlie Lucas, Juanita Rogers, Sulton Rogers, Welmon Sharlhorne, Herbert Singleton, Willie White, and Purvis Young are displayed along with Native Americans, Silas and Bertha Claw, Betty Manygoats, Elizabeth Manygoats, Wallace Nez, and Lorraine Williams and Southern potters, Burlon “B.B.” Craig, Cheever Meaders, and Lanier Meaders.
Important works include: a sculpture of a horse fashioned from cast-off automobile suspension parts, welded together by Charlie Lucas; one of a few extant whirligigs created by David Butler, mounted on its original artist-made stand; Minnie Evans’s 1946 mixed media on paper depiction of a ceremonial offering; the poignant tribute Melrose by the late Louisiana centenarian Clementine Hunter; a charming group of four wood figures, Pretty Women, carved by Sulton Rogers; and a book repurposed by the late Purvis Young who affixed 200 of his original paintings to its bound pages.
Deftly crafted pots created by Navajo potters Silas and Bertha Claw, Betty Manygoats and her daughter Elizabeth Manygoats, Wallace Nez, and Loraine Williams along with superb examples of Southern folk pottery made by Burlon “B.B.” Craig and Lanier Meaders, both recipients of a National Heritage Fellowship, and Lanier’s father Cheever add cultural context to the Ohr-O’Keefe’s collection of the brilliant George Ohr’s works.
Three coastal-themed works by the acclaimed St. Helena Island, South Carolina artist Sam Doyle loaned by Mr. Bailey will resonate with the Ohr-O’Keefe’s audience given their familiarity with the activities portrayed.
According to curator Erin Lee Antonak, “Seeing all of Mr. Bailey’s gifts together is extraordinary. They are arresting works and should be experienced in person to be fully appreciated. I feel that interaction is what so many people need now after a year and a half spent in virtual isolation.”