Surveying the Presence of Self-Taught African American Artists in American Museums

Authored by: Katherine Jentleson

The Routledge Companion to African American Art History

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138486553
eBook ISBN: 9781351045193
Adobe ISBN:


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During the summer of 2018, visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art had the opportunity to experience works of art the likes of which had never been seen there before. History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift featured objects not from some remote country, but from within our national borders, whose status as cultural treasure vis-à-vis the Met is only a relatively recent assertion. Made in the American South by artists of African descent who never received formal training, the twenty-nine works in the exhibition were part of the museum’s 2014 acquisition from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation and included sculpture by Lonnie Holley, painted assemblage by Thornton Dial, exuberant drawings by Nellie Mae Rowe and show-stopping quilts both bold and muted by Annie Mae Young and Loretta Pettway. Presented in a gallery adjacent to the museum’s modern and contemporary art wing, History Refused to Die spilled out onto the west wall of its discrete space, where Dial’s Victory in Iraq (2004) hung alongside large-scale painting by Conrad Marca-Relli and Clyfford Still, making the exhibition’s run on the postwar canon spatially explicit.

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