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Acquiring a Work of Art: He is Risen from The Passion of Christ Series

He Is Risen (The Passion of Christ Series)

There are two African American artists that I thought I would never have the opportunity or the funds to purchase, Romare Bearden and Henry Ossawa Tanner.  I still haven’t been fortunate to acquire a Tanner, but Bearden became part of the American collection in 2006.  Much of Bearden’s work falls outside the American collection, because it was done after 1945 and, therefore, considered contemporary art.  The organization of museum collections can seem so arbitrary to an outsider, even inside it can be confusing. The cut off of 1945 was made because that is the period when American art no longer emulated European style and ventured out on its own to develop Abstract Expressionism.  I discussed this in the Delaney blog.  Because of this demarcation I never thought a Bearden would become available that would fit into the American before 1945 collection.

The discovery of this painting occurred during my 2006 trip to New York for my yearly symposium on American art.  I always visit the galleries to see what is available.  On the wall in an American art gallery was an early Tanner that caught my eye, but it was not representative of the artist’s style and would not have been a good representation of his work.  So I continued to look at the display on the rest of the wall when I was struck by the color and design of the work next to it.  I wasn’t used to seeing early works by Romare Bearden, so I was surprised to learn he was the artist.  The piece was stunning.  I kept coming back to it during my walk through the gallery.  When I returned to the IMA I couldn’t take my mind off the painting.  The price was more than I had ever asked the museum to pay for an acquisition, but I thought it was so important to the collection that I had to try to acquire it for the museum.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Acquiring a Work of Art: Training for War

There was a beautiful full page ad that a New York dealer had placed in the magazine American Art Review of a print by William H. Johnson.  Johnson first received attention in 1929 when he won the Harmon Foundation Gold medal.  He was a well trained artist having studied at the art school of the National Academy of Design and then in France, where he took up residence in the former studio of James Abbott McNeill Whistler.  After his return from France, Johnson resided in Harlem and became part of the Harlem Renaissance culture.

Much of Johnson’s art focused on his roots in South Carolina and his life in Harlem.  His work is very colorful and expressive and often tinged with humor.  After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and America went to war, Johnson produced numerous paintings and prints that explored the contributions of African Americans to the war effort.  His paintings depicted black soldiers engaged in infantry training, ammunition drills, actual battle, and war-related support services.  He focused on their heroism as well as the segregation of the armed forces with a combination of seriousness and his signature style of humor.

Training for War by William H. Johnson

Training for War by William H. Johnson

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Acquiring a Work of Art: Loch Long

It’s difficult to acquire a work of art for the IMA that is being offered for sale in an auction, because any addition to the museum’s collection has to be reviewed by a committee and the Board of Directors whose meetings may not coincide with the scheduled auction.  When Loch Long by Robert Duncanson came up for auction in 1997, I knew this would make a wonderful addition to the IMA African American collection. But I had to find a way to bid on the painting but not purchase the work without prior approval from the committee and the Board.  Before I could even consider proceeding, the director’s approval was required. This was not difficult, because building the African American collection was a museum priority and Duncanson was a very important artist and the only African American artist associated with the Hudson River School of landscape painters.  No museum collection of African American art would be complete without one of his landscapes.

Loch Long by Robert Duncanson

Loch Long by Robert Duncanson

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Acquiring a Work of Art: Little Brown Girl

This is the beginning of a series of blogs relating to the IMA’s acquisition of art for its African American collection.  Eight works by African Americans have come into the American Art before 1945 collection since 1993, the first of which has the most unusual story.

I was in the process of organizing the exhibition A Shared Heritage: Art by Four African Americans when I made my first African American acquisition for the museum in 1993.  It was an atypical purchase because the painting, Little Brown Girl by Indiana artist John Wesley Hardrick, had been a gift to the museum in 1929.  At that time the IMA was known as the Herron Art Museum or the John Herron Art Institute.  The policy in those days for lending works from the museum’s collection was very broad and record keeping was not what it is today.  This resulted in the painting being listed as missing in inventory in 1942. Repeated inventories failed to reveal its whereabouts.  The painting remained unaccounted for until 1993 when it was offered to the IMA by a New York dealer because of the artist’s Indianapolis connection.  A discussion with the dealer revealed that the painting belonged to a collector in Maine, but the trail leading back to the Herron Art Museum had gone cold.  The museum’s director went to see the painting and noticed the number 29.40 on the frame, the wooden stretcher and the back of the canvas.  This number confirmed the painting belonged to the IMA, since it was the accession number placed on the work when it was acquired by the museum.  The number indicates that it was the 40th piece of art to be added to the collection in 1929.

Little Brown Girl by John Wesley Hardrick

Little Brown Girl by John Wesley Hardrick

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Art on Tour: Where is the John Sloan Painting?

Have you missed John Sloan’s painting Red Kimono on the Roof?  If you have, you are not alone.  The painting has not been on display for almost a year. Works come and go from gallery walls for a variety of reasons, but often they are on loan to another museum for an exhibition.

The story of the departure of the John Sloan began in July 2006 when the IMA director received a letter from another institution requesting the loan of Red Kimono on the Roof for an exhibition on Sloan’s New York paintings.  The exhibit was scheduled to be shown at four museums from October 2007 through December 2008.  The letter was passed on to me,  the American art curator, and the museum’s registration department setting in motion a carefully documented chain of events that would lead to the departure of the painting. The IMA requires at least six months notice to process the loan of a work of art from its collection.
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