Black Artists in America: From the Great Depression to Civil Rights 

October 17, 2021 – January 2, 2022
Presented by The Joe Orgill Family Fund for Exhibitions
Organized by The Dixon Gallery and Gardens 

Throughout the twentieth century, Black artists in the United States produced powerful works of art that described and expressed the joys, anxieties, social changes, economic upheavals, global conflagrations, and aesthetic concerns of the times during which they lived.  Through more than fifty paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, Black Artists in America: From the Great Depression to Civil Rights explores the various ways in which African American artists responded to the political, social, and economic climates of the United States from the 1930s into the 1950s. 

Black Artists in America begins with the collapse of the stock market in 1929 and the subsequent devastation of the American (and much of the world’s) economy. The Great Depression interrupted one of the most powerful aesthetic flowerings this country has ever produced, the Harlem Renaissance, and thrust many artists into poverty and hardship.  During this time, however, Black artists including Charles White and Hale Woodruff were an integral part of a new aesthetic development known as Social Realism, which rejected early modernism in favor of realistic imagery focused on issues important to the working class. 

With the outbreak of World War II, Black artists were called upon to use their creative talents in service to their country, despite racist policies within the American military.  Some of the most compelling visual commentaries on the American war experience were produced by Black artists such as Eldzier Cortor and Jacob Lawrence.  In the postwar years, many artists, including Elizabeth Catlett and Hughie Lee-Smith maintained a strong commitment to the power of figurative art to tell stories and make political statements, aesthetic decisions affected by the early civil rights struggles of the 1950s.  At the same time, new trends in American art placed Social Realism at odds with artists linked to the elevation of abstraction and non-representational art, including Charles Alston, Norman Lewis, and Walter Augustus Simon.  

Black Artists in America: From the Great Depression to Civil Rights is the first in a suite of three linked exhibitions and publications that will examine the African American experience in the visual arts through the last seventy years of the twentieth century.  The exhibition is comprised of works of art from public and private collections around the country, but there is a special emphasis on artists, including Vertis Hayes and Reginald Morris, who lived and worked in Memphis, helping to establish Memphis’ role in the development of Black American art.

Sponsored by First Horizon 

Horace Pippin, American (1888—1946), Holy Mountain, I, 1944; Oil on canvas; 30 ½ x 36 inches; Art Bridges, AB.2018.24


Phillip R. Dotson 

October 3, 2021 January 2, 2022 
Malory/Wurtzburger Exhibition 

Mississippi native Phillip R. Dotson has been creating works of art that are alive with a colorful and lyrical energy for more than fifty years.  His paintings, which have been exhibited in museums across the country and published widely, reveal an eclectic mix of influences ranging from African sculpture to European surrealism.  Additionally, much of his work is informed by experiences growing up amidst the sights, sounds, and symbols of the American South.  Dotson has described his work as “looking to the future, guided by the past.”

Since 1972, Dotson has guided the art program at LeMoyne-Owen College, teaching nearly every aspect of art-making to generations of students, along with educating them on the rich history of African American art.  His constant exposure to young adults has lent a certain optimism to his work, amplified by his use of rich colors and bold contours.  Phillip R. Dotson is a retrospective examination of Dotson’s remarkable career, showcasing his early, brooding surrealist compositions to his brilliant more recent paintings.

Phillip R. Dotson, Summer Shade, and African Art


Borders: Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir

August 29, 2021 – April 23, 2022
On view in the gardens 

The work of Icelandic artist Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir returns to the Dixon this fall with more than twenty sculptures from her Borders series. The Dixon first presented the artist’s Horizons series in our gardens in 2009 to great success. Now, Thorarinsdottir’s remarkable figural works will animate the Dixon’s property again through Borders. The sculptures are presented in pairs, one cast-iron and one aluminum, either standing or seated and often placed as if they are in a silent conversation. Thorarinsdottir’s figures are at once familiar and otherworldly, and their quiet aura invites viewers to contemplate the ways in which all humans are connected, despite our outward differences.

STEINUNN THÓRARINSDÓTTIR, Borders, 2009-11; Cast iron and cast aluminum, Courtesy of the artist


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