In recent decades, the Art Center collection has been enhanced through the acquisition of works by artists from the African diaspora with a focus on works by African American artists of the nineteenth through twenty-first centuries. While the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center and its precursor, the Vassar College Art Gallery, have housed an art collection since 1864, the early collection reflected the nineteenth-century liberal arts education offered at Vassar, encompassing primarily European masters and American landscape painters associated with the Hudson River School. In the past 150 years, however, the campus art museum has branched out from that original model with the aim of continually enriching the collection with compelling works relevant to the Vassar community and the general public alike.
Examples of this endeavor include a significant landscape painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner, a large-scale abstract composition by Al Loving, Jr. (both on view in the permanent collection galleries) and numerous works on paper by contemporary artists that explore what it means to be African American today through bold representations of black bodies and faces. Gathered together, the works in this exhibition not only form a collection of portrayals of African American subjects, but also illustrate the artists’ critical practice of making visible the unseen forces at work in the minds of the viewer and in society at large.
This exhibition is part of Buildings and Belonging: Mapping the African American Experience at Vassar College since 1861 a campus-wide project initiated by the African American Alumnae/i of Vassar College (AAAVC) to illuminate the enduring contributions and presence of African Americans on campus.