THE CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART announced it has received a gift of five contemporary art works from philanthropist Agnes Gund, including “Tea for Two (The Collector)” by Robert Colescott (1925-2009). The 1980 painting depicts a nattily dressed black man (the collector) leaning against a fireplace with circles of smoke hanging in the air above him. He is surrounded by art, and a blonde woman sits nearby, while a butler enters the room carrying a tea service for two.

Colescott packs his narrative canvases full of color, symbolism, and provocative images, employing satire to challenge racial and sexual stereotypes. “Tea for Two (The Collector)” was included in “Robert Colescott: A Retrospective, 1975-1986,” the first major survey of his work, which was organized by the San Jose Museum of Art in 1987, and co-curated by Lowery Stokes Sims. Presented at eight venues, in 1989 the exhibition traveled to the New Museum in New York, where the painting was used to illustrate an invitation for the show.

Colescott packs his narrative canvases full of color, symbolism, and provocative images, employing satire to challenge racial and sexual stereotypes.

In addition to the Colescott painting, the Cleveland museum acquired works by Brice Marsden, Claes Oldenburg, Donald Sultan, and Adja Yunkers.

“Our collection of contemporary art would not be what it is without the support of Agnes Gund,” William Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art said in a statement. “Her most recent gifts to the museum are extremely welcome additions to area part of the CMA’s collection that we are eager to expand.”

A longtime supporter of the museum, Gund was born in Cleveland. The arts patron and collector is a member of the Cleveland museum’s board of trustees and is also president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art. She recently sold a major painting by Roy Lichtenstein and dedicated $100 million from the proceeds to ending mass incarceration. Partnering with the Ford Foundation, Gund established the Art for Justice Fund and is encouraging other major collectors to sell works to raise money for the fund.

The museum describes the Colescott painting thus:

    “Tea for Two (The Collector)” is a superb example of Robert Colescott’s pictorial style and unique way of debunking stereotypical views. With raw imagery, garish colors, expressive gestures, and visual puns, Colescott questioned racial and sexual conventions. People of different ethnicities appear in his work, mostly as stereotypes in reversed situations. This work depicts a wealthy black collector with a white woman lounging in a living room while an Asian servant presents tea. They are surrounded by artworks reminiscent of Frank Stella, David Smith, Roy Lichtenstein and other well-known white and high-priced artists.

The Cleveland museum recently re-installed its contemporary galleries where the newly acquired Colescott painting is currently on view.

Colescott was the first African American artist to represent the United States in a solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale (1997). His work is featured in “Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas,” a three-artist show opening at the Seattle Art Museum in February 2018. CT


TOP IMAGE: ROBERT COLESCOTT (1925–2009), “Tea for Two (The Collector),” 1980 (Acrylic on canvas). | Cleveland Museum of Art


To further explore Robert Colescott’s work, consider “Robert Colescott: A Retrospective, 1975-1986” accompanied his first survey exhibition. Other catalogs, include “Robert Colescott, Recent Paintings” (1997) and “Robert Colescott: Troubled Goods- A Ten Year Survey (1997-2007).”


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