MAG has acquired a number of important works by 20th-century American artists. The new acquisitions, the first since Jonathan Binstock joined the museum in September 2014, reflect the new director’s expertise in the art of the post-World War II era.
Five of the works, by George Condo, Sam Gilliam, Josiah McElheny, Preston Singletary and Nick Cave, are currently on exhibit on the Gallery’s first floor.
A leader among contemporary expressionistic painters and an influential bridge between de Kooning and younger generations, George Condo emerged in the 1980s with his friends Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. A voracious consumer of art history, Condo imbues his pictures with references ranging from European classicism to American pop culture. Many of his works, such as his iconic clown portraits, focus on mundane or “low” subjects, but with a lack of cynicism and the seriousness of an Old Master.
Pictured: The Clown (2010). Marion Stratton Gould Fund.
One of the most significant sculptors of the 20th century, Elizabeth Catlett was a lifelong social activist whose work was inextricably bound up with her experience as an African American woman in an age of widespread segregation. She often used her art to depict the dignity and the exhaustion of workers, the concerns of mothers for their children, and the crushing realities of poverty in both the US and her adopted country of Mexico.
Pictured: Woman Fixing Her Hair (ca. 1950). Maurice R. and Maxine B. Forman Fund, Lyman K. and Eleanore B. Stuart Endowment Fund, Taylor Fund, Thelma M. Knapp Fund, Brown Fund, and funds from deaccessioning.
Sam Gilliam established himself as a major artist in 1968 when he jettisoned wooden stretchers and allowed his canvases to hang and swing through space like drapery. Through the years he has experimented with an extraordinary number of painting techniques. A protean talent, he has always remained true to acrylic paint, which, for Gilliam, offers endless potential for aesthetic discovery. The Met, MoMA, Whitney and Tate London have all acquired major Gilliams in recent years.
Pictured: Fishing Well (1997). Gift of the artist.
A conceptual glass artist, Josiah McElheny is passionate about mid-century modern aesthetics, combining the highest-quality studio craft with a rigorous commitment to historical research. Winner of a MacArthur “genius grant,” McElheny trained at the Rhode Island School of Design and honed his skills as a glassblower under the tutelage of European masters. The glass elements in this work are all hand-blown, while the mirrored back allows viewers to become an integral part of the sculpture.
Pictured: Blue Prism Painting I (2014). Clara and Edwin Strasenburgh Fund, Knapp Fund, Lyman K. and Eleanore B. Stuart Endowment Fund, and funds given in memory of Dorothee Kellner Schwartz.
For more than two decades, Preston Singletary has straddled two cultures. An internationally known artist who has studied with master glass blowers in the US, Sweden and Italy, Singletary is today best known for using glass to express and explore his Northwest Native heritage. His art may be found in major museum collections across the US. “The artistic perspective of indigenous people reflects a unique and vital visual language which has connections to the ancient codes and symbols of the land,” writes the artist.
Pictured: Chilkat Woman (2014). Gift of Alan Cameros.
Nick Cave gained recognition in the 1990s for his Soundsuits—vivid, full-body outfits made of objects foraged from flea markets and antique shops. More recently, Cave began collecting inflammatory racist memorabilia and transforming it into artworks infused with irony. “I aim to rehabilitate the problematic, loaded object and find a place of relevance and empowerment through reuse,” he says.
Pictured: End Upheld (2014). Bequest of Charles W. Strowger, by exchange, and Knapp Fund.