Detroit Institute of Arts Acquires Iconic Painting by Emma Amos –

Following her death in 2020 and a traveling retrospective, influential painter Emma Amos has received new attention within the nation’s top institutions. Further evidence of that trend came this week, when the Detroit Institute of Arts revealed it had acquired an iconic work by her that appeared in its retrospective.

Equals, a 1992 painting from a beloved series of works depicting falling figures, has now been added to the DIA’s collection through the museum’s Center for African American Art. It is the first painting by Amos to be added to the museum’s collection, and one of the few in this series to reside in an institution of DIA’s caliber. The work was among the highlights of his 2021 retrospective, curated by Shawnya L. Harris, which made stops in Athens, Georgia; Utica, New York; and Philadelphia.

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Amos’ paintings of falling figures were produced in 1988 and 1992 and were seen as a response to the sense of turmoil faced by African Americans like her. But Amos, whose work often involved clever perspective shifts and dazzling uses of color, also framed his explanation of the series in formal terms.

“I liked the idea of ​​using the sky instead of having everyone on their feet,” she once said. “That meant you had to see the body in different ways – not a standing figure, not a lying figure, but a figure being in some sort of anxious position, but also there could be some joy in flying through the air.”

In this work, a woman who may just be a stand-in for Amos herself is shown tumbling in front of a waving American flag. A photograph of a cabin owned by Southern sharecroppers is located in one corner; nearby is an equals sign that draws the eye to the plummeting woman. The borders of the painting are identified by the DIA as “African fabric” printed with images of Malcolm X.

Throughout her career, Amos has faced racism, sexism, and class oppression, both in her work and in her lived experiences. At times, she turned to activism, joining groups such as the feminist collective the Guerrilla Girls. She had long struggled to gain gallery representation, and few of her works entered museum collections during her lifetime.

Even today, few of the best museums in the United States possess the work of Amos. This is the case in New York, where Amos has long been based – the Whitney Museum and the Brooklyn Museum each have a painting, while the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have none. . Some of these museums, however, have prints by Amos, which were also an important part of his practice.

This is also the case in Georgia, the state where Amos was born. The High Museum of Art in Atlanta does not own any works by Amos.

All of this makes the DIA’s acquisition of Equals a rarity and a coup.

Calling the work “extraordinary,” Valerie Mercer, curator at the DIA’s Center for American Art, said in a statement, “When I first saw this piece during a visit with Amos in his New York City studio in the early 1990s, he immediately caught my eye because of his vivid colors and powerful brushstrokes, and his dynamic depiction of plummeting bodies as a microcosm of racial disparities and gender in society.

About Catharine C. Bean

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