With perhaps less fanfare than has surrounded gains for its photography and contemporary art collections, African art has become a growth industry at the High Museum of Art.
The High is expanding the footprint of the Fred and Rita Richman Gallery for African Art from 2,400 to 4,000 square feet, so that it will occupy almost half of the Wieland Pavilion’s Lower Level. Fittingly, the museum will open the expansion on June 28 with an exhibition showcasing nearly 40 recent African art acquisitions, “African Art: Building the Collection.”
The expansion grew out of a pledge by the Richmans, New York-based patrons of African art at the High for more than four decades, for whom the gallery was named in 2005.
“I am thrilled for the opportunities the newly expanded gallery presents for the future of African art at the museum,” High African art curator Carol Thompson said in a statement. The museum’s African collection now numbers 862 pieces.
On view through May 31, 2015, “Building the Collection” will represent a diverse range of artistic expressions from nations including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, South Africa and South Sudan.
Historic pieces by unidentified artists will be shown alongside works by 20th-century artists including Asante carver Osei Bonsu. Ancient works will include a large stone tool from what is now Niger and royal arts from West African kingdoms, including an ivory rattle from Owo, a city famous for its ivory carvers. More recent pieces will include a mid-20th century Cameroon headdress adorned with African grey parrot tail feathers and “Bus Ride” (1996), a large-scale paper construction by South African artist Kay Hassan.
Following “Building the Collection,” the Richman Gallery for African Art will feature rotating special exhibits and installations of works from the permanent collection. It will also host educational programs and tours.
Also opening on the Wieland Pavilion’s Lower Level on June 28 will be “Top Drawer: Select Drawings from the High’s Collection.” Featuring more than 70 drawings drawn from the American, European, folk and modern and contemporary collections, the exhibit (through Jan. 4, 2015) will include works by Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Salvador Dali and John Singer Sargent. Ellsworth Kelly’s “Peony” (1979) and Jasper Johns’ “Untitled” (2010) are recent acquisitions being shown for the first time.
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