African American Exhibit at PMA

On January 19, 2015, Diartspora Gallery launched a campaign with Indiegogo to raise funds to restore and re-furbish the many paintings of the collection which have suffered neglect. A lot of these works were salvaged from some pretty rough circumstances, and have the rips, stains, chips and grime to prove it. In some cases, the patina of wear, especially on the frames, actually complement the images depicted. But for the most part, a professional restoration and cleaning is needed to bring out the best in these paintings; to re-vivify their soul.
A week ago, Katie Pfeiffer and I saw the “Representation” exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; showcasing 200 years of African-American Art. It was eye-opening. The prices displayed ranged from the painterly masterpieces of Henry Ossawa Tanner to the idiosyncratic folk figures by Bill Traylor . There were abstracts, realistic portraits, impressionistic pieces, collages and cut-outs. All were striking.
There were also photographs, sketches, sculptures, and even furniture. As I walked through the exhibit, I became more and more aware how much all of the images were enhanced by virtue of their staging and framing. The identical picture – if surrounded by a warped or yellowed matte, or ill-fitting, spotted frame – would simply not present as well. Artful and immaculately tailored borders around an image unblemished by wear guide the eye to focus and see the essence the artist intended; the opposite detracts.
I have lived with these paintings for a long time now. And have gotten used to their sometimes weathered appearance. But the “Representation” show was a revelation. I realized that many of the pieces in the Diartspora collection were imbued with the same power, charm, and beauty as those on the Art Museum walls, but that their sketchy condition sometimes obscured that similarity. The pieces could be repaired and given new life. But it would cost. Money which I don’t have.
And so Katie and I decided to make an appeal to the art and culture lovers who benefit the offerings showcased on the Indiegogo website. This is a project, a sum, which indeed will take a village to raise. Any and every contribution is welcome and much appreciated. The phenomenon of group participation in creating and supporting different projects, thanks to the Internet, will definitely be what will take the Diartspora collection to the level it needs and deserves. We are grateful for the early responders for starting things off, and remain hopeful that the benefits of restoring this art will be understood and supported by many yet to come.