Press release

History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift

History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift

Exhibition Dates:  May 22–September 23, 2018
Exhibition Location:  The Met Fifth Avenue, Gallery 918-919, Lila Acheson Wallace Wing
Press Preview:  Monday, May 21, 2018, 10 am–noon


Opening May 22 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift will present 30 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and quilts by contemporary African American artists to celebrate the 2014 gift to The Met from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, based in Atlanta, Georgia. The artists represented by this transformative donation all hail from the southeastern United States, particularly Alabama.

History Refused to Die will feature the mixed-media art of Thornton Dial (1928–2016), whose monumental assemblage from 2004 provides the exhibition's title, and a selection of renowned quilts from Gee's Bend, Alabama, by quilters such as Annie Mae Young (1928–2012), Lucy Mingo (born 1931), Loretta Pettway (born 1942), and additional members of the extended Pettway family. Among other accomplished artists featured are Nellie Mae Rowe (1900–1982), Lonnie Holley (born 1950), and Ronald Lockett (1965–1988).

Remarkably diverse in media and technique, the works showcased in the exhibition nonetheless suggest a cultural and aesthetic kinship among the makers through their use of found and repurposed materials. Their subjects are likewise varied, rooted in personal history and experience as well as regional identity—such as legacies of slavery and post-Reconstruction histories of oppression under the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws—and national and international events.

Over time, self-taught artists have been labeled "outsider" for their use of everyday or discarded materials to create works for themselves and their communities without the expectation that their creations would be seen in galleries or museums. Presented in the context of The Met collection, this exhibition challenge this description and encourages a more expansive understanding of the legacy of these artists within the broader canon of contemporary American art.

The press release on the 2014 gift from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation to The Met can be found here

History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift is organized by Randall Griffey, Curator in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Amelia Peck, Marica F. Vilcek Curator of American Decorative Arts and manager of The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art at The Met. The exhibition was originated by Marla Prather, former curator in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Met.

The exhibition will be accompanied by the catalogue My Soul Has Grown Deep: Black Art from the American South. In this richly illustrated publication, Griffey situates Dial, Holley, and others within the historical institutional embrace of self-taught artists, including Henri Rousseau and Jean Dubuffet, and the modernist practice of repurposing found and salvaged materials. In her catalogue contribution, Peck discusses the origins of the striking graphic aesthetic of the quilts. Their essays are bookended by a thorough introduction by Cheryl Finley, Associate Professor of Art History at Cornell University, and a critical historical overview of the American South during and after the Civil Rights Era by novelist and critic Darryl Pinckney. The catalogue will be published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.

The catalogue is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Accompanying Programs

Several programs and events have been organized in conjunction with the exhibition, including the workshop "Design and Construction: A Quilting Workshop with Louisiana Bendolph." In this program, participants will learn the techniques behind the designs and construction of Gee's Bend Quilts with Gee's Bend Quilters Collective member Louisiana P. Bendolph. The first session includes a visit to the Museum's Antonio Ratti Textile Center to view related quilts with Bendolph and Amelia Peck (June 22, 10 am–5 pm, or June 23, 10 am–4 pm; pricing and registration available here).

On September 5, MetLiveArts Artist in Residence Julia Bullock will present the world premiere of History’s Persistent Voice. Bullock will sing the words of Thornton Dial in a recital featuring traditional slave songs and words penned by African American artists from the southeastern United States, including the quilters of Gee’s Bend. The texts are set to original compositions by a roster of all-women composers, including Tania León, Courtney Bryan, Jessie Montgomery, and Allison Loggins-Hull. (7 pm; tickets available here)

Additional programs include the series "Conversations with..." in which a fellow and a conservator engage in lively 30-minute dialogues in the exhibition galleries. Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander, Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow, Department of Modern and Contemporary Art will discuss how Birmingham, Alabama, became a principal artistic center during the Post-Civil Rights era in the American South (June 22, 11:30 am); and Marina Ruiz-Molina, Associate Conservator, Paper Conservation, will discuss her technical investigations into Thornton Dial's use of coffee and Coca-Cola as drawing materials (July 13, 6:30 pm). A Summer Teen Studio art-making workshop will take place July 9 through 13. MetFridays programs include a panel discussion with scholars and artists that will explore the history of the American South and works in the exhibition (September 7, 6–7:30 pm); and an "Artists and Artworks" program with artist and educator Chloë Bass who will reflect on the quilts of the Gee's Bend Quilters Collective and her own artistic practice (September 14, 6:30 pm).

The exhibition will be featured on the Museum's website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using hashtag #HistoryRefusedtoDie.


Updated May 15, 2018

Image: Thornton Dial (American, 1928–2016). History Refused to Die (detail), 2004. Okra stalks and roots, clothing, collaged drawings, tin, wire, steel, Masonite, steel chain, enamel, spray paint, 8 ft. 6 in. x 87 in. x 23 in. (259.1 x 221 x 58.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Souls Grown Deep Foundation from the William S. Arnett Collection, 2014 (2014.548.1). © Thornton Dial

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