History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift at The Met Fifth Avenue, May 22 – September 23, 2018

Photographs by Corrado Serra.

“This installation of paintings, sculptures, and quilts celebrates the creative accomplishments of contemporary African American artists from the southeastern United States and a transformative gift of fifty-seven artworks from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation of Atlanta, Georgia. Remarkably diverse in media and technique, the selection nonetheless suggests cultural and aesthetic bonds in the use of found and repurposed materials, an approach fostered by the distressed economic conditions of the post-industrial rural South. The subjects these works address are likewise varied, rooted in personal history and experience as well as regional identity—particularly common legacies of slavery and post-Reconstruction oppression under the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws—and national and international events. 

History Refused to Die spotlights the mixed-media creations of Thornton Dial—whose monumental 2004 assemblage provides the exhibition’s title—and the renowned quilters of Gee’s Bend (now Boykin), Alabama, including Annie Mae Young, Lucy Mingo, Loretta Pettway, and other members of the extended Pettway family. Others featured here include Nellie Mae Rowe, Lonnie Holley, and Ronald Lockett. Over time, the label “outsider” has been applied to self-taught artists like these who used everyday or discarded materials to create work for themselves and their communities, without the expectation it would been seen in galleries or museums. Presented in the context of The Met’s collection, this exhibition aspires to challenge that inadequate description and to encourage an expanded understanding of their legacies within the broader canon of contemporary American art.” — Introductory Wall Text

Thornton DialVictory in Iraq, 2004

Center: Thornton DialHistory Refused to Die, 2004

Left: Lucy T. Pettway“Housetop” and “Bricklayer” blocks with bars, ca. 1955. Center: Mary Elizabeth KennedyHousetop-nine-block “Log Cabin” variation, ca. 1935. Right: Annie Mae YoungWork-clothes quilt with center medallion of strips, 1976

Left: Loretta Pettway, Housetop, 1963. Center: Linda Pettway, “Housetop” – eight-block variation, ca. 1975. Right: Lucy T. Pettway, “Housetop” and “Bricklayer” blocks with bar, ca. 1955

Installation view

Purvis Young, Locked Up Their Minds, 1972

Left: Four works by Nellie Mae Rowe

Thornton Dial: Left to right: 9/11: Interrupted by the Morning News, 2002; African Athlete, 1998; January 20, 2009, January 20, 2009

Left: Lonnie Holley, Ruling for the Child, 1982. Right: Thornton Dial, The End of November: The Birds That Didn’t Learn How to Fly, 2007

Installation view

Right: Joe Minter, Four Hundred Years of Free Labor, 1995

Thornton Dial, Shadows of the Field, 2008

Installation view

Ronald Lockett, The Enemy Amongst Us, 1995

Left: Lucy Mingo, Blocks and Strips work-clothes quilt, 1959. Right: Thornton DialPowder Plan, 2013

Left to right: Loretta Pettway, Lazy Gal “Bars”, ca. 1965; Emma Lee Pettway Campbell, Blocks and strips work-clothes quilt, ca. 1950; Linda Diane Bennett, Bricklayer variation, ca. 1970; Lucy Mingo, Blocks and Strips work-clothes quilt, 1959

History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift is organized by Randall Griffey, Curator in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Amelia Peck, Marica F. Vilcek Curator of American Decorative Arts and manager of The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art at The Met. The exhibition was originated by Marla Prather, former curator in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Met.