The arrangement of works in the main hallway of the University of Miami's Lowe Museum is quite disorientating. There's an impressive Roy Lichtenstein from 1969 and Duane Hanson's uncanny Dolphins Football Player. But behind a large black curtain towards the back of the museum, you'll find a treasure trove, "The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art: Works on Paper."
The Kelleys are prominent San Antonio-based art connoisseurs, who possess one of the most important collections of African American art in the United States. Now, they have brought their traveling exhibition to Miami, adding another jewel to the crown of the contemporary art season to the Magic City. "It's exciting to know about all this activity here," Harriet Kelley says of the buzzing art season.
African American artists of the last three centuries have been a
particular interest to the Kelleys, who began building their collection
with dedicated research and the assistance of Thurlow Tibbs (a
multi-million dollar contributor of African American art to the National
Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.). "Initially, we were only
interested in the past," says Kelley, "but as we've collected over the
years and our confidence has grown, we've looked into up-and-coming
artists as well." Still, the icons of African American art are who is
best represented in the Kelleys' works, including Jacob Lawrence, Romare
Bearden, and Henry Ossawa Tanner (a noted inspiration of Norman
Why strictly focus on this sector of modern art? "We wanted to tell the
story of African American art," she explains. "Just as we learned the
story from being museum-goers in San Antonio. I trained as a docent for
four years, and my husband and I started slowly finding works that were
beautiful to us."
A wide array of paper-based media appears in a dedicated section of the
museum, including linoleum cuts, collage, lithographs, and watercolors.
There's almost a melancholy hint of the struggle and triumph in scenes
of slavery, music, the natural landscape, and community life.
Kelley's collection takes us through turbulent waves of history, be
it the periods of Antebellum, Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights Movement,
or the Postmodern era. Kelley acknowledges that their collection is not
just a stable investment, but a poignant reminder of the peaks and
valleys of their own lives. "We started collecting at a time when my
husband and I experienced many changes and transitions: the death of our
parents, I was gravely ill for a time...this was a kind of therapy for
us," Kelley says, thoughtfully. "It's been an interesting journey."
"The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art:
Works on Paper" is on view at the Lowe Museum of Art, University of Miami
until January 16, 2011. 1301 Stanford Drive, Coral Gables on UM's main
campus. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm,
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