The Georgia Museum of Art has a new collection—prominent works by African-American artists—donated by Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson. The couple also will fund an endowment to support a new curatorial position.
Larry Thompson announced the donation and endowment support at a panel discussion held at the museum in conjunction with the exhibition Tradition Redefined: The Larry and Brenda Thompson Collection of African-American Art as part of UGA’s 50th anniversary celebration of desegregation in 2011.
The agreement between the museum, UGA and the Thompsons was recently finalized, and the university secured an initial donation of paintings, prints and sculpture. The Thompsons’ gift initially includes 37 works, many of which appeared in the exhibition Tradition Redefined, which was on display at the museum in early 2011.
The gift enriches an original donation of 100 American paintings by Alfred Heber Holbrook, who founded the Georgia Museum of Art with his gift in 1945.
Larry and Brenda Thompson collect the works of both celebrated artists and artists considered emerging, regional or lesser known. The result is a collection that offers a more in-depth, inclusive understanding of African-American artists and their aesthetic and social concerns. It is the Thompsons’ desire to give more works to the museum in the coming years.
The new curatorial position—the Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of the African Diaspora—will be a full-time academic professional who will oversee the museum’s collection of paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings and archives by African and African-American artists.
“Some traditional art by African Americans relates directly to West African cultures,” said Hillary Brown, GMOA director of communications. “This connection is more pronounced in Georgia and neighboring coastal states than in any other place in North America, and the sensibilities of modern African-American artists are, likewise, tied to and underpinned by cultural patterns that emerged from Africa. Modernism in Western art has an important African ingredient.”
By combining these two disciplines, the Georgia Museum of Art will create a specialized field with innovative teaching and research -possibilities and one that will be of special relevance to the university and the state.
Both Larry and Brenda Thompson have significant ties to UGA and the museum. Larry Thompson joined the School of Law this past fall as the John A. Sibley Professor in Corporate and Business Law. Having served as former deputy attorney general for the U.S. and former senior vice president of government affairs, general counsel and secretary for PepsiCo, he teaches corporate law and white-collar crime. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Culver-Stockton College, his master’s from Michigan State University and his law degree from the University of Michigan.
Brenda Thompson has long been a patron and leader in the arts. She currently serves on the board of trustees for the Barnes Foundation and the board of the Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries. She joined the Georgia Museum of Art’s board of advisers last fall. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from Saint Louis University in 1980 and was an assistant professor at Morehouse College in the department of psychology before working as a clinical psychologist and then as a school psychologist.