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Collecting a Legacy: New Acquisitions


The Studio Museum in Harlem, established in 1968, was not intended to be a collecting institution. However, artists and collectors began gifting work to the Museum just two years later, and a collection was born. 

Genevieve Gaignard
So She Passed (detail), 2017
Mixed-media installation
The Studio Museum in Harlem; gift of Genevieve Gaignard Grassroots  2018.1
Courtesy the artist

Fifty years after its founding, the Studio Museum remains at the forefront of institutions for artists of African descent, providing a haven for artists to create and see their work in, and be inspired by, the work of others.

As construction of the Museum’s new home, designed by Sir David Adjaye OBE, is underway, this moment presents an incredible opportunity to reflect on how the collection has grown over the years and how the Museum can continue to expand its holdings of work by black artists. Though the Museum’s Acquisition Committee serves a central role in growing the permanent collection, much of it has been amassed through the generosity of friends and supporters of the institution who've donated works of art. This past year (fiscal year 2018; July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018) has been especially notable thanks to the incredible support and thoughtfulness of several major collectors and donors.

Peggy Cooper Cafritz, who passed away in February 2018, was a dedicated collector and developed an impressive collection of artwork by black artists throughout her life. A champion of supporting artists throughout their careers, she amassed one of the country’s largest private collections of work by artists of African descent. The legendary arts patron, educator, and civil rights activist bequeathed the majority of her unparalleled collection to the Studio Museum and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, which she cofounded in 1974 in Washington, DC. Collectively, more than 650 works were donated, which marks the largest gift ever of contemporary art by artists of African descent.

Nina Chanel Abney, Untitled, 2012. The Studio Museum in Harlem; bequest of Peggy Cooper Cafritz (1947–2018), Washington, DC, collector, educator, and activist 2018.40.1 © Nina Chanel Abney. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.


Peggy Cooper Cafritz, a champion of supporting artists throughout their careers, she amassed one of the country’s largest private collections of work by artists of African descent.


The Studio Museum is incredibly grateful and forever indebted to Cafritz following this historic gift. This donation, which includes more than four hundred works to the Museum, grows the collection by twenty percent and adds more than one hundred new artists, many from outside the United States. This gift encompasses a multigenerational “who’s who” of artists of African descent, and will both expand and add to the strengths of the existing collection. Among the artists represented are many alumni of the Museum’s signature Artist-in-Residence program, and those who have shown work at the Museum, demonstrating the shared commitment of Cafritz and the Museum to supporting black artists throughout their careers.

In addition to receiving six works by Tschabalala Self and one work by Allison Janae Hamilton—both of whom are current artists in residence—notable additions to the collection include Soundsuit (2009) by Nick Cave, who was featured in Frequency, one of the exhibitions in the influential “F-Show” series. Also included is African-American Flag (1997) by David Hammons, a piece that serves as a strong connection to the one that had hung in front of 144 West 125th Street since 2004. This work is also part of the traveling exhibition Black Refractions: Highlights from The Studio Museum in Harlem, organized in partnership with the American Federation of Arts. Following its January debut at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, the exhibition will tour across the country, to five additional venues.

Other artists in this bequest include but are not limited to Nina Chanel Abney, Sadie Barnette, Renee Cox, Noah Davis, Abigail DeVille, Emory Douglas, Derek Fordjour, Samuel Fosso, Theaster Gates, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Samuel Levi Jones, Titus Kaphar, Deana Lawson, Simone Leigh, Eric N. Mack, Kerry James Marshall, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Chris Ofili, Lorraine O’Grady, Ebony G. Patterson, Martin Puryear, Deborah Roberts, Malick Sidibé, Lorna Simpson, Henry Taylor, Mickalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, William Villalongo, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, Kehinde Wiley, Saya Woolfalk, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

In addition to the landmark donation by Cafritz, the following gifts were also made during fiscal year 2018. Art + Culture, with the support of Larry Ossei-Mensah, donated an edition of prints featuring work by Derrick Adams, Sanford Biggers, Phoebe Boswell, and Kameelah Janan Rasheed. Three photographs from the 1970s by Ming Smith entered the collection thanks to the generosity of Joan Davidson, Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg, Betsy Witten, and the Acquisition Committee. The Museum has a long and rich history with Ming Smith, making these an incredible addition. Jeffrey Fraenkel and Frish Brandt donated two Diane Arbus photographs from the 1960s.

Following the close of Fictions (2017–18), the Museum’s final exhibition in its home of more than thirty-five years, the installation work So She Passed (2017) by Genevieve Gaignard entered the collection thanks to the support of Genevieve Gaignard Grassroots. Thanks to Barbara Gladstone, two works by Derrick Alexis Coard were added to the permanent collection. The Museum is grateful to Jonathan and Mindy Gray for their purchase of the monumental Black Subjects: Still III (2016) by Serge Alain Nitegeka. The incredible video work, Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death (2016) by Arthur Jafa was donated by the artist. Tony Lewis’s What a Cheapskate (2016) entered the permanent collection thanks to the generosity of Noel Kirnon. Cauleen Smith’s …You Don’t Hear Me Though… (2017) has also become part of the Museum’s collection thanks to the support of Miyoung Lee, Frank Ahimaz, and the Acquisition Committee. Laurence and Saralta Loeb generously gifted three acrylic works on canvas and one lithograph by Daniel LaRue Johnson to the Museum. The Museum is grateful to David Lusenhop for his incredible ongoing support, notably his donation of Barbara Jones-Hogu’s God’s Child (2009). Artist Rodney McMillian gifted his work 3 moons: one into a galaxy (2016) to the Museum. Leonard and Louise Riggio graciously gifted to the Museum Glenn Ligon’s Stranger #86 (2016). Following his exhibition Crossing 125th at the Studio Museum in 2017, artist Jamel Shabazz donated six of his photographs that were featured in the show. Studio Museum Trustee Ann Tenenbaum and her husband, Thomas H. Lee, donated Willie Cole’s Downtown Goddess (2012) to the Museum. Finally, one of the newest Acquisition Committee members, Neda Young, underwrote the purchase of The Olokun and her Council and the Zulu Knight (2018) by Curtis “Talwst” Santiago.

In addition to all of these works, the Acquisition Committee—a select group of twenty-six individuals who meet three times a year and support the growth of the Museum’s collection through philanthropic support—purchased works by Firelei Báez, Maren Hassinger, Wadsworth Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Mavis Pusey, Sherrill Roland, and Ming Smith. Museum funds were also used to purchase Picnic with a Future Ex (2017) by Alex Gardner. Báez's work that was acquired by the Committee, To write fire until it is every breath (2018) was featured in the recent exhibition, Joy Out of Fire, one of the Museum’s most recent inHarlem initiatives. The exhibition was executed in partnership with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where it was on view from May through November 2018, alongside several other monumental new works by the artist.

The remarkable gesture of stewardship and generosity by Cafritz, as well as the ongoing support of the Acquisition Committee and many friends, are particularly meaningful this year as the Museum celebrates its 50th anniversary. Similar to the excitement and development that followed the acquisition and move to 144 West 125th Street in 1982, this current moment of incredible growth and change has not only solidified the Studio Museum’s presence in the New York and global art scenes, but has also redefined the profile of the permanent collection. This will provide the Museum with opportunities for more comprehensive exhibitions and programming following the grand reopening in just a few short years.

—Joshua Bell and Connie H. Choi

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