The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has received a gift of 31 paintings, sculptures, and drawings by 20 American artists from ARTnews Top 200 Collectors Pamela J. Joyner and Alfred J. Giuffrida. The donation includes pieces by Elizabeth Catlett, Beauford Delaney, Norman Lewis, Richard Mayhew, and other artists.
Neal Benezra, the director of SFMOMA who announced earlier this year that he will step down from the helm of the institution, said in a statement, “These important works strengthen the museum’s collection in critical ways and allow us to present a richer, more expansive picture of art history.”
Based in the Bay Area, Joyner and Giuffrida are known worldwide for their collection of abstract works by Black artists of several generations. Giving advice to collectors starting out in the field, Joyner, who joined the board of SFMOMA in 2020, once said, “Figure out where the vacuum is, where the void is, where the need is. So whatever the void is, find the need and fill the gap.”
[How Pamela Joyner and other activist collectors are changing the art world.]
Joyner collaborated with former SFMOMA senior curator of painting and sculpture Gary Garrels in selecting works that would fill historical gaps in the institution’s own collection. Joyner said in a statement that the museum “is playing a major role by contextualizing these works where they always should have hung. That is a major rewriting of art history to tell the whole story.”
“This group of artists was written out of mid-century modernist history only because they were Black,” Joyner said in a statement. “What I want visitors to take away is that there were people of color not only working in the field, but defining the character of the movement at that time.”
View a selection of works from the gift in the following slideshow.
Loïs Mailou Jones, ‘Peasants at Kenscoff,’ 1955.
This painting shows a hillside market scene at the Kenscoff commune southeast of Port-Au-Prince in Haiti. At SFMOMA, the piece will be on display in an installation titled “Modern Americas,” which features works by artists working in the U.S., Mexico, Haiti, and elsewhere.
Norman Lewis, ‘Leaf Forms #8,’ 1953.
Lewis created ‘Leaf Forms #8’ after he began foregrounding abstraction in his practice in 1946. The artist drew inspiration from a range of sources, including the natural world, art from Asia and Africa, and other famed modernists.
Hughie Lee-Smith, ‘Two Boys,’ 1968.
This work reflects the surrealist style that Lee-Smith took up in the 1950s and 1960s. The painting, which depicts two boys situated on either end of a treacherous structure, reflects what the artist called his “metaphysical” style.
Elizabeth Catlett, ‘Singing Head,’ 1968.
This painted bronze sculpture by Catlett—aptly titled Cabeza Cantando (Singing Head)—depicts a woman in song. Catlett often centered the experiences and perspectives of Black American women in her sculptures.
Herbert Gentry, ‘Activity,’ 1975.
This painting by Gentry features a vibrant play of interconnected lines and forms. The Expressionist painter was known for these kinds of semi-abstracted, energetic canvases.
Richard Mayhew, ‘Perennial Sentinel,’ 2000.
Mayhew’s landscape paintings examine the history of colonialism, genocide, and slavery in North America. Here, an imposing and magestic tree reminds viewers of the power—and memory—of the natural world.
Richard Mayhew, ‘Overture,’ 2001.
In this painting, like Perennial Sentinel, Mayhew situates the viewer within a lush, softly-rendered landscape. Overture shows a vividly blue stream in the middle of a green clearing.