AARON DOUGLAS, “Study for Haitian Mural, Wilmington, Delaware,” 1942 (oil on board). | Lent by Wilson A. and Deborah Fl. Copeland and Lauren F. C. N’Namdi

On View presents images from noteworthy exhibitions

WHILE ATTENTION is often paid to patrons of the arts in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, for generations, the city of Detroit has had a significant collector base devoted to African American art and artists. A new exhibition at the Detroit Institute of the Arts (DIA) highlights this rich and storied history and legacy of ongoing support.

“Detroit Collects: Selections of African American Art from Private Collections” presents 60 works from 19 private collections. Paintings, sculpture, and photographs by historic, modern, and contemporary figures are included—from Aaron Douglas, William H. Johnson, and Bob Thompson, to Richard Hunt, Rashid Johnson, Whitfield Lovell, and Carrie Mae Weems. Detroit artists such as Charles McGee, Allie McGhee, Tylonn Sawyer, and the late Leroy Foster, are also featured.

“The Plotters” (1933) by Archibald Motley and Robert S. Duncanson‘s “Flight of the Eagle” (1856) from the renowned collection of Dr. Walter O. Evans and Linda Evans are on view. A surgeon, Dr. Evans spent his career in Detroit and retired nearly two decades ago in Savannah, where he was born. Over the years, he built a foremost collection of 19th and 20th century African American art comprising more than 500 exceptional works.

Joann and Harold Braggs contributed Clementine Hunter‘s “Picking Cotton” (1968) along with works by Norman Lewis, Herbert Gentry, and Benny Andrews. Harold is a co-founder of the Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club, which meets weekly in a restaurant giving local artists the opportunity to introduce their work to collectors and peers.

A DIA board member, Dr. Lorna Thomas lent paintings by Richard Mayhew, Tylonn J. Sawyer, and Robert Colescott to the exhibition. Works from the collection of Maureen and Roy S. Roberts, a retired General Motors executive, are also represented. Patrons of the DIA, a gallery dedicated to African American art at the museum bears the Roberts’s name.

“Detroit Collects” is organized by curator Valerie J. Mercer, who has championed African American art at the DIA for nearly two decades. Mercer heads the museum’s General Motors Center for African-American Art—the first curatorial department focused on African American art at a U.S. museum.

“I wanted to do something different, which was to highlight the collectors as well as the art,” Mercer told the Detroit Free Press about her vision for the exhibition. “I wanted people to realize that collecting African-American art is very doable in hopes of encouraging people about collecting.” CT


“Detroit Collects: Selections of African American Art from Private Collections” is on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Nov. 12, 2019-March 15, 2020


FIND MORE about the exhibition


ARCHIBALD MOTLEY, “The Plotters,” 1933 (oil on canvas). | Collection Walter O. Evans and Linda Evans


BEAUFORD DELANEY, “Greenwich Village,” 1945 (oil on canvas). | Mary Anne and Eugene A. Gargaro Jr. Collection


HUGHIE-LEE SMITH, “Girl Fleeing,” 1959 (oil on canvas). | Attorney Jerome Watson and Judge Deborah Geraldine Bledsoe Ford


LEROY FOSTER, “The Hero,” 1960, (oil on masonite). | Dr. Darnell and Shirley A. Kaigler


BOB THOMPSON, “The Accusation,” 1964 (oil on canvas). | Collection of Robert B. and Katherine Jacobs


CLEMENTINE HUNTER, “Picking Cotton,” 1968 (oil on board). | Joann and Harold Braggs Collection


ALVIN LOVING, “Untitled Cube,” 1973 (acrylic on canvas). | Collection of David and Linda Whitaker


MARITN PURYEAR, “Reliquary,” 1980 (gessoed pine). | Collection of Gayle and Andrew Camden


DAVID DRISKELL, “(Echoes) Let the Church Roll On,” 1995-1996 (encaustic, gouache, and crayon on paper). |


ASHEBER MACHARIA, “From Speech to Silence,” 2001 (acrylic on masonite). | Collection of David and Linda Whitaker


CARRIE MAE WEEMS, “After Manet, from May Days Long Forgotten,” 2002 (digital chromogenic print). | Shirley Woodson and Edsel Reid Collection


TYLONN J. SAWYER, “The Child (Day),” 2007 (oil on panel). | Collection of Lorna Thomas, M.D.


TYLONN J. SAWYER, “The Child (Night),” 2011 (oil on panel). | Collection of Lorna Thomas, M.D.


NICK CAVE, “Soundsuit,” 2010 (mixed media). | Collection of Joy and Allan Nachman


RICHARD MAYHEW, “Transition II,” 2013 (acrylic on canvas). | Collection of Lorna Thomas, M.D.


READ MORE about the collection of Dr. Lorna Thomas in the New York Times


“Detroit Collects: Selections of African American Art from Private Collections” was published to accompany the exhibition.


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