THE COLLECTION OF THE STUDIO MUSEUM in Harlem has grown by 20 percent thanks to the generosity of the Peggy Cooper Cafritz (1947-2018), the late Washington, D.C. arts patron, activist and co-founder of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. The Studio Museum and Duke Ellington announced yesterday that Cafritz bequeathed the majority of her vast collection of art to the two institutions. More than 400 works are going to the Studio Museum and Duke Ellington is receiving more than 250 works. The institutions described the bequest as the largest-ever gift of contemporary art by artists of African descent.

 


Studio Museum in Harlem: NICK CAVE, “Soundsuit,” 2009 (mixed media including synthetic hair, fabric, metal, and mannequin, 108 x 36 x 20 inches). | Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, © Nick Cave

 

The cache of works going to the Studio Museum is a veritable wish list of the most acclaimed, critically recognized, and promising artists of Africa descent. The group is multigenerational and most have an association with the museum through its signature artist-in-residence (AIR) program or participation over the years in its exhibitions. The gift includes works by Kerry James Marshall (AIR alum, most expensive living African American artist), Martin Puryear (representing the United States at the 2019 Venice Biennale), Titus Kaphar (named 2018 MacArthur Fellow last week), Kehinde Wiley (AIR alum, painted President Obama’s Smithsonian portrait), Tschabalala Self (current AIR), and Simone Leigh (AIR alum, most recent winner of the museum’s Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize).

Works by Nick Cave, Noah Davis, Abigail DeVille, Emory Douglas, Derek Fordjour, Samuel Fosso, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Theaster Gates, David Hammons, Samuel Levi Jones, Deana Lawson, Wangechi Mutu, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Chris Ofili, Lorraine O’Grady, Ebony G. Patterson, Deborah Roberts, Malick Sidibé, Lorna Simpson, Henry Taylor, Mickalene Thomas, James VanDerZee, William Villalongo, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, Jack Whitten, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, among many others, will also be added to the Studio Museum’s permanent collection, which currently consists of more than 2,000 objects.

“We are humbled that the indomitable Peggy Cooper Cafritz chose the Studio Museum to help steward the legacy of her incredible vision,” Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem said in a statement.

“Peggy was a trailblazing champion of artists of African descent, and at her core believed deeply in the power of art. Through her collecting and her support of artists, she quite literally transformed the way the world viewed black artists. She was also a great builder and supporter of institutions. Now, that astonishing belief in artists will prove transformative to the Studio Museum, as this gift broadens and deepens our collection at a historic moment in the life of our institution.”

“Peggy was a trailblazing champion of artists of African descent, and at her core believed deeply in the power of art. Through her collecting and her support of artists, she quite literally transformed the way the world viewed black artists.” — Thelma Golden, Studio Museum in Harlem


Studio Museum in Harlem: NINA CHANEL ABNEY, “Untitled,” 2012 (acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches). | Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, © Nina Chanel Abney

 

The gift comes on the eve of the Studio Museum’s 50th anniversary gala on Oct. 18 and in the midst of its transition to a new building designed to provide more gallery space to display the museum’s collection. The museum is currently closed with various programming continuing offsite. The groundbreaking and start of construction on the new building is scheduled for this fall and expected to continue through 2021.

It is also a pivotal period at Duke Ellington, a public high school and leading academy of the arts established in 1974. Over the decades, Duke Ellington remained a chief priority for Cafritz, who witnessed the completion of the school’s $178.5 million renovation in August 2017. The Washington, D.C., institution offers the only museum studies program in the nation at the high school level. The gift of artworks will form the core of the school’s research and display collection.

Selections bequeathed to Duke Ellington are by artists with a connection to the school—both as faculty and students. The artists include BK Adams, Miya Ando, Alexandre Arrechea, Louise Bourgeois, Mark Thomas Gibson, Hannah Greely, Bill Harris, Walter Lobyn Hamilton, Jas Knight, Jacqueline Maggi, Chinedu Felix Osuchukwu, Eva Sussman, and many others. Works by Hank Willis Thomas, a graduate of Duke Ellington, are going to both the school and the Studio Museum.

“Peggy still guides every step we take at the Duke Ellington School,” Tia Powell Harris, CEO of Duke Ellington, said in a statement. “By using this bequest to achieve her goal of imbuing our building with art, she will forever inspire not only our students and their families but the members of the public who come to us as a magnet for performances and exhibitions. It’s as if we will now have direct access to Peggy’s amazing vision, seeing the world’s possibilities as she did.”

Charles K. Barber, president of Duke Ellington’s board said: “It was because of Peggy that we have one of the leading high school arts programs in the country. Now our students will curate and experience the artworks of the woman who made that program possible. It was because of Peggy that community service is woven into our school’s mission. Now our students will look at Peggy’s artworks and see vividly what it means to give back to the community. We can never thank her enough.”

“It was because of Peggy that we have one of the leading high school arts programs in the country. Now our students will curate and experience the artworks of the woman who made that program possible.”
— Charles K. Barber, Duke Ellington School of the Arts


Duke Ellington School of the Arts: BK ADAMS, “Study of Transformation 1 (Blue Horse),” 2010 (steel, rubber, plastic, metal, acrylic paint, and copper, 29 x 14 x 4 inches). | Courtesy BK ADAMS•I AM ART

 

THE NEWS OF THE HISTORIC BEQUEST comes about eight months after the death of Cafritz, who passed away earlier this year on Feb. 18 at the age of 70. A lawyer by trade, she spent decades serving on the boards of government and cultural institutions working to bring about diversity in mainstream organizations and opportunities for underserved populations.

Cafritz was a passionate art collector who collected artists and their works. She got to know the artists she supported and called them “my artists.” She was a trusted friend and reliable source of wisdom and guidance in their careers.

It is remarkable that Cafritz assembled a collection of more than 650 works of art because she lost nearly her entire collection to a house fire in 2009. More than 300 works were destroyed. Her love of art was unwavering, though, so she eventually started buying again and built up a new collection and in less than a decade it grew larger than her initial holdings.

Cafritz wrote about her life and her art collections in a fully illustrated coffee table volume published within days of her death. “Fired Up! Ready to Go!: Finding Beauty, Demanding Equity: An African American Life in Art. The Collections of Peggy Cooper Cafritz” includes contributions by Thomas, Marshall, and Leigh. Golden, a longtime friend who Cafritz refers to as “the incredible mademoiselle of the art world, the brilliant leader of the Studio Museum,” conducted an interview with the collector for the book.

Before Cafritz lost her first collection to fire, she seemed to indicate to Golden a desire for her art to eventually go to the Studio Museum. During their conversation, Golden recounts receiving an unexpected delivery from the collector. She said:

    “When I think about the fire, Peggy, what always amazes me—through all those years of friendship that we had, and your incredible hospitality, support, mentorship, inspiration, et cetera—was that one day, in a very Peggy way, you sent four loose-leaf notebooks to the Studio Museum. They contained images of every work in your collection. You sent them to me and said, ‘At some point I want to talk about this, but I’m going to send them to you now.’ They had been at the museum for two, three years when the fire happened. When the news of the fire got out, one of the curatorial assistants came in my office, and said, ‘We have these books here that say Cafritz collection.’

    “I called you, and your lawyer called me an hour later, and we sent them back to you in order to reconstruct a sense of the chronology. Everything that had happened was so overwhelming and was going to take you so much work emotionally that there was no way you could sit down and make a list out of memory. Here, in a weird way, you had had someone do that work for you, because years before you had a sense of maybe one day we can do a show, or maybe one day… I always think that there was something in your mind that did that.”

The documentation helped Cafritz account for her loss and take care of insurance claims. Nearly all the works represented in the notebooks are no more. But much of the collection that sprouted in their wake will now be housed at the Studio Museum, accounting for a significant portion of its permanent collection.

“This is, of course, a bittersweet moment. Our mom would have loved to see this bequest come to fruition,” Zachary Cafritz, son of Peggy Cooper Cafritz said. “But we’re thrilled this collection will live on in two places so close to her heart, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and The Studio Museum in Harlem. Both institutions are dedicated, as she was, to fostering the careers of young artists of color. Thelma Golden is an incomparable leader and, more importantly, one of mom’s greatest friends. We could not ask for better stewards of her legacy.” CT

 

BOOKSHELF
The release of “Fired Up! Ready to Go! Finding Beauty, Demanding Equity: An African American Life in Art. The Collections of Peggy Cooper Cafritz” was bittersweet, as it coincided with the death of the author. It is certainly a blessing, however, that Peggy Cooper Cafrtiz was able to publish the book, document her legacy and control her own narrative.

 


Duke Ellington School of the Arts: CHINEDU FELIX OSUCHUKWU, “Paul Robeson,” 1996 (gouache on paper, 30 x 22 inches). | Courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery

 


Studio Museum in Harlem: LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “No Head for Violence,” 2011 (oil on canvas, 17 3/4 x 15 3/4 inches). | Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, © Lynette Yiadom-Boayke

 
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