Above: Herbert Singleton, "Crucifixion Coffee Table," 1995. All images courtesy of Souls Grown Deep Foundation and Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Minneapolis Institute of Art just acquired 33 new works by African-American artists from the South.

The art came via the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, an organization dedicated to placing those artists in museums' permanent collections.

“Mia really needs to increase its representation of various African-American traditions in art,” said Bob Cozzolino, a painting curator at the museum, who worked on this acquisition with Nicole LaBouff, associate curator of textiles. “Relative to other encyclopedic museums, we don’t really have a high percentage of works by African-American artists.”

These works will become part of a show in 2020. In the meantime, Cozzolino is working with MIa's curator of African art, Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers, to put one of the pieces, Thornton Dial’s “Monument to the Minds of the Little Negro Steelworkers” (2001-03), on view in Gallery 375 sometime in August.

Most of these artists are self-taught and many of the pieces deals with religious iconography. Cozzolino was particularly interested in the ways these works might connect with religious art — mainly European —  that's already in Mia's collection.

This new work offers a counterpoint. Take the hilariously tongue-in-cheek “Crucifixion Coffee Table” (1995), by Herbert Singleton. Or the 1987 painting of a black Christ by Leroy Almon.

“Pressure From the Burn,” by Lonnie B. Holley, wraps together several striking metaphors. Two pieces of wood from a railroad track near the Bessemer Steel Plant in Alabama, which historically employed African-Americans, is arranged into a cross, and has a fire hose wrapped around it.

Above: Lonnie Holley, "Pressure From the Burn" (1995) employs found wood, fire hose and nails.

“It seems to allude simultaneously to the snake in the Garden of Eden, which is often shown while winding around a tree, to evoke the crucifixion of Jesus — a martyrial image,” said Cozzolino. “It is also referencing the 1963 Civil Rights clashes in Birmingham with firehoses, and all the violence that was done to peaceful protestors in Alabama.”

On the textile front, LaBouff selected five quilts. Lola Pettway’s “Housetop” variation, with its red, brown, yellow, and orange-coloured rectangles, exhibits strong colors and large shapes that are typically found in the African-American quilting tradition.

Currently Mia has work by African-American artists on view in “Mapping Black Identities," a strong exhibition that continues through March 15, 2020. The show includes more than 30 artists, and is premised on pushing back on the historically flat depictions of blackness often found at encyclopedic museums such as Mia, focused largely on oppression and struggle. 

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