“African American visitors haven’t always seen themselves on the walls of museums,” said Dr. Curlee Raven Holton, executive director of the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Disaspora at the University of Maryland. Holton was on a panel at the Georgia Museum of Art in February with Atlanta collectors, Larry and Brenda Thompson, who donated 100 works by African American artists to the museum’s permanent collection in 2012. Now, another 58 from their private collection are on display through May 7.
“Expanding Tradition,” shows a diversity of art, ranging from the abstract to the figurative, from sculptural to mixed media, some by celebrated 20th century artists such as Romare Bearden and other pieces by young, emerging or regional artists.
Thompson, a former deputy attorney general and a corporate lawyer, explained that he and his wife learned about the world of art collecting in the 1980s when he was asked to serve on the art committee of King and Spalding law firm in Atlanta. In that role, he says he was exposed to artists’ estates and art auctions.
“We started buy Georgia artists, primarily printmakers, and then in the early ’90s, we started buying nationally,” Thompson recalled. “Art has to speak to me – it has to have a voice.” Both Thompsons grew up in segregated communities in Missouri and “we have pride in our history,” said Mrs. Thompson. But it wasn’t until David Driskell, a noted artist and educator visited their house and urged them to exhibit that they agreed to a show at the Driskell Center in 2009.
The Thompsons have amassed over 600 works of art and although African American art is still undervalued, Thompson says, “we don’t sell our art; we’ll give it to relatives or friends.”