‘Stunning exhibit’ opens at Rice University Art Gallery to celebrate university’s centennial

More than 150 people gathered at the Rice University Art Gallery Thursday evening for the opening of Rice’s centennial-year art exhibit, “Tradition Redefined: The Larry and Brenda Thompson Collection of African-American Art.” It will be on view through Nov. 17.

Larry and Brenda Thompson, parents of 1998 Rice alumnus Larry Thompson Jr., have collected works by acknowledged masters and by emerging and regional artists. Both Brenda and Larry Jr. attended the opening. The exhibit was curated by Adrienne Childs, an independent scholar, art historian and the Shelia Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for the Study of African and African-American Research at Harvard University.

Rice President David Leebron said the exhibit brings together three key themes at a historical moment in time. “This exhibit marks the celebration of our centennial, the celebration of art on our campus and the celebration of diversity, which is so manifest in the arts,” he said. “We could not be more grateful to have this stunning collection to celebrate 100 years of Rice University.”

“Tradition Refined” was first curated by Childs for the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Arts at University of Maryland, College Park, and presents the breadth of the Thompsons’ art collection, which spans the 1890s to 2007.

School of Humanities Dean Nicolas Shumway said the idea for the exhibit grew out of a meeting he had at the Thompsons’ home in Connecticut earlier this year when he first saw their collection.

“I was moved to tears by the quality of this exhibit, by the beauty of it,” Shumway said. “At that point the idea was born to bring a portion of the collection to Rice University and put on this exhibit. The Thompsons were extremely gracious, gave their permission and we got the ball rolling.”

Jim Crownover ’65, chair of the Rice Board of Trustees, expressed his sincere appreciation for the Thompsons’ generosity and the importance of the art exhibit. “This exhibit is one of the many reasons you have the humanities at Rice,” he said.

Featuring 72 works by 67 artists, the exhibition seeks to redefine the canon of African-American art by offering a more in-depth, inclusive presentation of the artists and their aesthetic and social concerns, according to the Driskell Center. Among the artists represented are Romare Bearden, Thelma Johnson Streat, Henry O. Tanner, Radcliffe Bailey, Howardena Pindell and William T. Williams, as well as other artists identified by the Thompsons, including Stefanie Jackson, Preston Sampson and Joyce Wellman.

All of the artists in the exhibition have strong ties to Atlanta, the center of a long-thriving African-American arts community, where the Thompsons have resided for several decades.

“You see all kinds of styles, you see figurative work and abstract work,” Childs said of the exhibit. “The thread of the exhibit is that it spans of the 20th century, which resonates with Rice’s centennial. You see work from the 1890s all the way up to the 2000s.”

For more information about “Tradition Redefined,” see http://traditionredefined.rice.edu. For Rice Gallery hours, go to http://www.ricegallery.org/new/information/visit.html.

For more information about Rice’s centennial, which the university will officially celebrate Oct. 10-14, see http://centennial.rice.edu.

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