Press Release

Tang Premieres 'Alma Thomas'

Event Date: 
6 February 2016
Saratoga Springs, NY

Exhibition Brings Together Major Works from Public and Private Collections in an Exploration of Full Span of Artist’s Unconventional Career

Co-Organized by the Tang Teaching Museum and The Studio Museum in Harlem, Exhibition Premieres at the Tang February 6 – June 5, 2016

The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College will premiere Alma Thomas beginning February 6, 2016. Examining the artistic evolution of Thomas, the exhibition will feature works from every period in her career, including rarely exhibited watercolors and early abstractions, as well as her signature canvases drawn from a variety of private and public collections. The exhibition is organized by the Tang Teaching Museum and The Studio Museum in Harlem.

Alma Thomas will join other presentations at the Tang Museum exploring the practice of modern and contemporary artists whose work defies conventional categorization. Most recently, the Tang organized exhibitions on artists Nicholas Krushenick, Corita Kent, Terry Adkins, and Nancy Grossman.

“While Alma Thomas had her supporters, she was largely underappreciated during the majority of her career. It is good to see a resurgence of interest in her work in recent years. Our exhibition will focus on the sweep of her career and practice, tracing her evolution as she found her mature artistic voice in the late 1960s and 70s,” said Tang Museum Dayton Director and co-curator of the exhibition, Ian Berry. “We will examine Thomas’ work through different series including early expressionist watercolors to vibrant, large paintings featuring what would become her signature bold style.”

“Alma Thomas’ work provides an exciting opportunity for a new collaboration between The Studio Museum and the Tang,” says Lauren Haynes, Associate Curator, Permanent Collection, The Studio Museum in Harlem. “Her work incorporates diverse influences and artistic traditions that make her a pioneering figure in American art, and we are thrilled to galvanize renewed interest in her work and life to introduce her unique vision to a broad public.”

Alma Thomas (1891-1978) focused on her artistic career after retiring as a school teacher at the age of 69. She charted her own course as an African-American woman within Washington D.C.’s largely white and male mid-20th-century artistic community. Her own highly personal style expanded upon traditional Abstract Expressionist or Washington Color School practices, and was developed through experimentation with abstraction, color, line, and pattern. She often cited natural elements as inspiration, and her signature style reflects the influences of Henri Matisse, Josef Albers, and Wassily Kandinsky—featuring loosely painted yet meticulously constructed canvases, filled with latticework of bright color creating patterns from negative space.

The exhibition will lead visitors through Thomas’ practice, focusing each gallery on a particular way of making. Highlights include:

  • Breeze Rustling Through Fall Flowers, 1968 (acrylic on canvas, 58 7/8’ x 50’); Phillips Collection
  • Wind, Sunshine, and Flowers, 1968 (acrylic on canvas, 71 3/4’ x 51 7/8’); Brooklyn Museum
  • Iris, Tulips, Jonquils, and Crocuses, 1969 (acrylic on canvas, 60’ x 50’); National Museum of Women in the Arts
  • Starry Night and the Astronauts, 1972 (acrylic on canvas, 60’ x 53’); Art Institute of Chicago
  • Arboretum Presents White Dogwood, 1972 (acrylic on canvas, 67 7/8’ x 54 7/8’); Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • Hydrangeas Spring Song, 1976 (acrylic on canvas, 78’ x 48’); Philadelphia Museum of Art

A comprehensive catalog will accompany the exhibition, featuring new essays on Alma Thomas’ work and legacy. Alma Thomas is curated by Ian Berry, Dayton Director of the Tang Museum and Lauren Haynes, Associate Curator, Permanent Collection at The Studio Museum. The show will be on view February 6 – June 5, 2016 at the Tang before traveling to The Studio Museum July 14 – October 30, 2016.Alma Thomas is organized by the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College and The Studio Museum in Harlem.

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