The New Orleans Museum of Art Shows Thornton Dial’s "Hard Truths"

artwork: Thornton Dial - "Stars of Everything", 2004 - Mixed media on canvas on wood - 98" x 101 1/2" 20 1/2" - © Thornton Dial. On view at the New Orleans Museum of Art in "Hard Truths: The Art of Thorton Dial" from February 24th until May 20th.


New Orleans, Louisiana.- The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) is proud to present “Hard Truths: The Art of Thorton Dial”, on view at the museum from February 24th through May 20th. The exhibition highlights the artist’s significant contribution to the field of American art and shows how Dial’s work speaks to the most pressing issues of our time — including the war in Iraq, 9/11, and social issues like racism and homelessness. The exhibition presents over 40 of Dial’s large-scale paintings, drawings and found-object sculptures, including new works. Spanning twenty years of his work as an artist, it is the most extensive showing of his art ever mounted and is organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Thornton Dial was born to Mattie Bell in 1928 in Emelle, Alabama. He lived with his mother until he was around three when Dial and his half-brother Arthur moved in with their second cousin, Buddy Jake Dial, who was a farmer. When Thornton moved in with Buddy Jake, he farmed and learned about the sculptures that Buddy Jake made from items lying around the yard, an experience that greatly influenced him. Dial grew up in poverty and without the presence of his father. This poverty led him and his siblings to create toys from the discarded objects around them. In 1940, Dial moved to Bessemer, Alabama. When he arrived in Bessemer, he noticed the art along the way in people’s yard and was amazed at the level of craft exhibited. He married Clara Mae Murrow in 1951. They have five children, one of which died of cerebral palsy. He is cousins with the artist Ronald Lockett. His principal place of employment was the Pullman Company in Bessemer, Alabama, until the company closed its doors in 1981. After the Pullman factory shut down, Dial began to dedicate himself to his art for his own pleasure. In 1987, he was introduced to Bill Arnett, a local art collector of great influence who brought Dial’s work to public attention. Dial has lived, worked, and created art in Alabama for his entire life. He continues to create works of art and shows them throughout the United States. Thornton Dial met another self-taught artist Lonnie Holley, who introduced Dial to Atlanta collector and art historian, William Arnett. Arnett, who focuses on African American vernacular art and artists, brought Dial’s work to national prominence. The art historian has also brought Lonnie Holley and The Gee Bend Quilter’s to the attention of the United States, among others citation needed. Arnett also helped to create the Tinwood publishing company in 1996, along with his sons Paul and Matt.

artwork: Thornton Dial - "Lost Cows", 2000 - 2001 - Mixed Media - 76 1/2" x 91" x 52". © Thornton Dial. -  At the New Orleans Museum of Art until May 20th.

There was some controversial coverage on Bill Arnett regarding the ethics of his dealings with Dial and other artists he represented. In an early 1990s 60 Minutes interview, Dial perceived host Morley Safer to be talking down to him as Safer portrayed Dial as an uneducated artist being manipulated by powerful white art elites, namely Arnett. In 2007, there was also a lawsuit from the quilters of Gee Bend, Alabama, which Arnett represents. The artist and collector remain in each others good graces despite the controversy. Dial’s work addresses urgent issues in the realm of history and politics in the Unites States, such as war, racism, bigotry and homelessnes. He constructs large-scale assemblages using cast-away objects, anything from rope to bones to buckets. Combining paint and found materials Dial weaves together an interpretation of history and politics in the United States. David C. Driskell, an artist and art historian of African American art, points to one of Dial’s symbolic creatures, the tiger. The Tiger represents the struggle to survive through difficult events and eventually the tiger symbolizes the African American struggle to obtain equal rights in the United States. In 2011, Dial’s work was profiled in a 4-page story in Time Magazine, where art and architecture critic Richard Lacayo argued that Dial’s work belongs to the category of art and should not be pigeon-holed into narrowly defined categories: “Dial’s work has sometimes been described as “outsider art”, a term that attempts to cover the product of everyone from naive painters like Grandma Moses to institutionalized lost souls like Martín Ramírez and full-bore obsessives like Henry Darger, the Chicago janitor who spent a lifetime secretly producing a private fantasia of little girls in peril. But if there’s one lesson to take away from “Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial,” a triumphant new retrospective at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, it’s that Dial, 82, doesn’t belong within even the broad confines of that category…What he does can be discussed as art, just art, no surplus notions of outsiderness required….And not just that, but some of the most assured, delightful and powerful art around.” Michael Kimmelman, from the New York Times, called Dial “preternaturally gifted,” and said he looks “dumfoundingly adept to some of us because his energy and fluent line, abstracted in maelstroms of color, easily call to mind Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. In 1993, Dial’s work was the subject of a large exhibition that was presented simultaneously at the New Museum of Contemporary Art and the American Folk Art Museum in New York. In 2000, the artist’s work was included in the Whitney Biennial, and in 2005-06, the Museum of Fine Art Houston presented a major exhibition titled “Thornton Dial in the 21st Century.” Dial’s works can be found in many notable public and private collections, including those of, among other institutions, the High Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the American Folk Art Museum, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.; and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

artwork: Thornton Dial - "All the Cats in Town", 1993 - Mixed media on canvas on wood - 70" x 82". © Thornton Dial. - At the New Orleans Museum of Art in "Hard Truths" until May 20th.

The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), New Orleans’ oldest fine arts institution, opened on December 16, 1911 with only 9 works of art. Today, the museum hosts an impressive permanent collection of almost 40,000 objects. The collection, noted for its extraordinary strengths in French and American art , photography, glass, and African and Japanese works , continues to expand and grow, making NOMA one of the top art museums in the south. The five-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA is one of the most important sculpture installations in the United States, with over 60 sculptures situated on a beautifully landscaped site amongst meandering footpaths, reflecting lagoons, Spanish moss-laden 200-year-old live oaks, mature pines, magnolias, camellias, and pedestrian bridges. The magnificent permanent collection, noted for its extraordinary strengths in French and American art, photography, glass, and African and Japanese works, continues to grow. The five-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA is one of the most important sculpture installations in the United States, with over 60 sculptures situated on a beautifully landscaped site amongst meandering footpaths, reflecting lagoons, Spanish moss-laden 200-year-old live oaks, mature pines, magnolias, camellias, and pedestrian bridges. NOMA continues to exhibit, interpret and preserve works of art from ancient to modern times. Paintings, drawings and prints, and decorative arts survey the development of Western Civilization from the pre-Christian era to the present. Reflecting its rich historic and cultural heritage in New Orleans, NOMA has formed a comprehensive survey of African and French art. Among its French treasures is a group of works by the French Impressionist Edgar Degas who visited maternal relatives in New Orleans in the early 1870s and painted just 20 blocks from the Museum. NOMA’s collection of works by masters of the School of Paris includes paintings and sculptures by Pablo Picasso, George Braques, Raoul; Dufy and Joan Miro, among others. NOMA has developed a unique Arts of the Americas collection, surveying the cultural heritage of North, Central and South America from the pre-Columbian period through the Spanish Colonial era. This collection is especially rich in objects from the great Mayan culture of Mexico and Central America, and in painting and sculpture from Cuzco, the fabulous Spanish capital of Peru. An important part of the Museum’s display of American art is a suite of period rooms featuring 18th and 19th century furniture and decorative arts. Visit the museum’s website at … http://noma.org