The Museum just acquired a sculpture by Augusta Savage titled Gamin. Why would I recommend this piece for museum purchase? The main reason, of course, is because it is a great work of art. It is the first piece by an African American woman artist to be acquired by the American collection. African American women artists were rare before 1945 and the availability of their work even rarer. The Museum was fortunate to be offered the most famous sculpture created by this very important Harlem Renaissance sculptor. In fact, for people who know Augusta Savage, the mention of her name immediately brings to mind an image of Gamin. The word means street urchin and the sculpture was meant to represent the young African American men who roamed the streets of Harlem and to give them racial pride and dignity.
Gamin helped win the artist a fellowship to study in Paris. After returning to Harlem from her study abroad, Savage became known for her portrait sculptures of important African Americans and her focus on African American culture and physical characteristics. She also taught sculpture in the Harlem community and among her students was Jacob Lawrence, probably the most famous African American artist to come out of this period.
How does this piece fit into the Museum’s collection? Quite well, in fact. Over the years we have been developing the Museum’s American collection of African American art and have added several important pieces, including Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, William H. Johnson, Joseph Delaney, Robert Duncanson and now Augusta Savage. We also have pieces on loan by Henry O. Tanner and Sargent Johnson, so we can offer our public some of the most important African American artists working before 1945.
The sculpture will be on view in the American galleries after July 14 when a gallery renovation takes place. The collection changes constantly, either though purchase or rotation, and we are always thinking of new ways to help our public enjoy our displays.
Filed under: Art