About Hard Truths

Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial highlights the artist’s significant contribution to the field of American art and shows how Dial’s work speaks to the most pressing issues of our time—including the war in Iraq, 9/11, and social issues like racism and homelessness. The exhibition presents 70 of Dial’s large-scale paintings, drawings and found-object sculptures, including 25 works on view for the first time. Spanning twenty years of his work as an artist, it is the most extensive showing of his art ever mounted.

Drawing inspiration from the rich aesthetic traditions of the black South and with no formal education, Dial has forged a major body of astoundingly original work. Influenced by the found-object displays of African American yard shows, his work incorporates salvaged objects—from plastic grave flowers and children’s toys to carpet scraps and animal skeletons—to create highly charged assemblages that tackle a wide range of social and political subjects, with a particular focus on the struggles of historically marginalized groups such as women, the rural poor, and the impoverished underclass. Born out of decades of his own struggle as a working-class black man, Dial’s work also explores the long history of racial oppression in America and offers a moving testimony on the human struggle for freedom and equality.

The exhibition is made possible through the generosity of the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation. Additional programming support provided by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Mr Dial Has Something to Say

Mr. Dial Has Something to Say, the award-winning documentary by Alabama Public TV, can be seen in the museum's Davis Lab on the second floor near the welcome desk. The film will play on a continuous loop throughout the run of the exhibition. View the trailer here.

About Thornton Dial

Photo by David Raccuglia, 2002.
Thornton Dial was born in rural Alabama in 1928 and spent most of his adult life laboring in the region’s heavy industry, including work as a welder for the railway car-maker Pullman Standard Company. Throughout his life, Dial also made “things,” and gradually became adept in the media of painting, drawing, sculpture and watercolor. Dial first gained recognition as a major artist in the late 1980s, with the growing interest in so-called “folk” or “outsider” art. Despite being self-taught and choosing to remain outside of the formalized art world, his work has continued to earn critical praise for its deft fusion of painting and sculpture, its emotional power, its wide-reaching social commentary, and its unique expression of a contemporary vision of the African American experience in the South. Dial’s works are included in the collections of a number of major museums, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the IMA, and the Milwaukee Museum of Art.

The new HARD TRUTHS Book

Produced in conjunction with the exhibition of the same title, this major book takes an unprecedented look at one of our most original contemporary artists. Exploring two decades of Dial’s paintings, sculptures, and drawings, it offers the most extensive survey of his work ever undertaken. It chronicles Dial’s creative life, including his extraordinary journey from the Black Belt fields and factories of the South to the galleries and museums of New York City. It also examines the Southern black art traditions in which his creations are rooted and features an in-depth look at the history, themes, and development of Dial’s art, highlighting his unique perspectives on society’s most compelling issues and dilemmas. The lavishly illustrated monograph includes over 150 color reproductions. Purchase Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial (Book).

Additional Venues

Hard Truths will be on view at the following institutions:

  • Indianapolis Museum of Art | February 25 – September 18, 2011
  • New Orleans Museum of Art | February 26 – May 20, 2012
  • Mint Museum of Art | June 30 – September 30, 2012
  • High Museum of Art | November 3, 2011 – January 13, 2013