March 3, 2024
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Alumni, partners help museum acquire Black artists’ works

Acquisitions include paintings, photographs from 1920s

"Untitled (Marcus Garvey's 1924 Demonstration Parade)" by James Van Der Zee (1924). Image Credit: Marcus Newton.

While generating a list of highlights of American art last summer, staff members at the Binghamton University Art Museum realized that the museum didn’t have any works by Black artists about Black life in America. They set out to change that.

Diane Butler, director of the museum, began her search by reaching out to those she thought could help.

“I wrote a letter to Friends of the Museum, people who have supported the museum, and asked if they could donate to the Binghamton Fund in order to raise money to acquire at auction some works of art by African American artists for the collection,” Butler says.

The museum was able to add 10 pieces by Black artists to its collection thanks to support from donors to the Binghamton Fund. The Museum also received support from a number of other long-time collaborators, like alumnus John Copoulos ’73. He gifted the museum works such as Loretta Bennett’s “No Way, No Way” (2006), as well as donated funds to acquire artwork such as Willie Cole’s “Eva Mae” (2012).

Another key collaborator on this project was Art Bridges, an organization that supports exhibitions and programs that expand access to American art. The art museum has worked with Art Bridges on three exhibitions so far, including the fall 2019 exhibition, “not but nothing other: African-American Portrayals, 1930s to Today.”

“This would not have been possible if not for Art Bridges supporting us with the exhibition [‘African-American Portrayals’], which had the largest attendance in the history of our museum,” Butler says. “We were hoping to get 2,000 visitors for our programs that year, and we had 5,000 attendees, just in the fall of 2019.”

The museum’s acquisitions also include two photographs, acquired with funds from Rebecca Moshief and Harris Tilevitz ’78 and taken by James Van Der Zee, best known for capturing everyday life in Harlem during the 1920s and 1930s.

Van Der Zee’s work and more can be found on the museum’s database, which will soon allow the public to view online items from the permanent collection, thanks to a grant from Art Bridges. For the future, the museum is planning a 2023 exhibition highlighting the works of Black sculptor Ed Wilson, who taught at Binghamton University for more than three decades.

Posted in: Arts & Culture