Monday, August 20, 2007

Cincinnati Art Museum Announces Gift of Art 400 Contemporary, Folk and Funk Works

Cincinnati Art Museum Announces Gift of Art 400 Contemporary, Folk and Funk Works

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Roy De Forest, Triumph of the Round Heads, 1982. L1.2007:226. Future Bequest of Robert Alan Lewis. Image courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Museum.

CINCINNATI.- Chicago native Robert A. Lewis has promised a major bequest of more than 400 paintings, sculptures and works on paper to the Cincinnati Art Museum. This collection includes a wide range of styles and formats, spanning from the 1960s to the present, and features works by a diverse group of American artists, many of them African American. The Art Museum will host a major exhibition featuring selected works from this collection in winter 2009.

For over 60 years, Lewis explored art museums and galleries near his home in Chicago and introduced himself to the city’s vibrant arts community. He began collecting in the late 1960s, right when a group of artists known as the Chicago Imagists first gained notoriety. As a result, his collection features work by a number of these artists and the artists who influenced them. His enthusiasm for art outside the mainstream also drew him to contemporary folk art, represented in depth in this promised bequest.

At the forefront of this collection are the Chicago Imagists, a loosely affiliated group of figurative artists whose work emerged in an era dominated by abstraction. Looking for inspiration from cartoons, comic books, and the work of untrained artists, they offered an alternative to the New York art world, which they deemed stuffy and pretentious.

Among these artists whose work is featured in the Lewis bequest is Roger Brown. His work titled Dzibilchaltun is a schematic painting of a Mayan settlement sparsely populated by tiny ant-like people, isolated in an alien world. The funky work of Karl Wirsum is seen through a profile head in painted wood with typewriter erasers for eyes and brows. The collection also includes works by Suellen Rocca and Ray Yoshida, as well as by Christina Ramberg, whose paintings of women’s bodies gave a feminist twist to the movement.

When Mr. Lewis began collecting in the 1960s, a renewed enthusiasm emerged for indigenous folk traditions and an engagement with the work of contemporary folk artists. The personal quality of this art and its spirit of rebellion had broad appeal to those seeking to escape conventional ways of life. Featured in the Lewis Collection are works by numerous folk artists from the 1960s to the present, most of whom worked in the South, including well known figures such as William Dawson, the Reverend Howard Finster and Minnie Evans. Visitors will appreciate the range of expression presented by each artist through the presence of their multiple works.

The collection also includes other significant holdings by contemporary artists, such as Donald Lipski and Roy De Forest. De Forest’s wildly imaginative paintings associated with the Funk art movement in California are represented in the collection with his large, boldly colorful work Triumph of the Round Heads.

“The Lewis Collection will greatly deepen our collection of contemporary art beyond the expected and expand our representation of folk art and African American art,” said Julie Aronson, curator of American painting and sculpture. “We look forward to sharing these compelling works with our visitors.”

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