The Frist Art Museum presents Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful, a comprehensive overview of the artist’s long, dynamic life (1891-1978) and his multifaceted career that was defined by constant creativity.
Showcasing over 150 works, including his cheerful and colorful abstract paintings and many objects that have never been exhibited or published before, the exhibition shows how Thomas’ artistic practices have spanned all aspects of his life, from community service and education in gardening and clothing. Co-hosted by the Chrysler Museum of Art and the Columbus Museum, Georgia, Everything Is Beautiful will be on view from February 25 to June 5, 2022.
This major retrospective follows the journey of the pioneering artist from Columbus, Georgia to Washington, DC, to become the first black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City in 1972, when she was four – twenty years old. It includes thirty-eight canvases covering the period 1922-77, over sixty works on paper, four puppets and a range of sculptures, photographs and ephemera. âThe Columbus Museum collection includes an extraordinary body of material related to Thomas, thanks to donations from his family, especially his sister John Maurice Thomas,â said Jonathan Frederick Walz, PhD, director of curatorial affairs and curator of the American art at the Columbus Museum. . “By sharing a selection of these objects, many of which have not been seen outside of Georgia, we hope to offer new perspectives on Thomas’s diverse work.”
âEverything Is Beautiful not only provides a more complex understanding of Alma Thomas, but also offers an inspiring example of how to lead a creative life today,â said Seth Feman, PhD, one of the curators of the exhibition and Chrysler’s deputy director for art and interpretation and curator of photography. He noted that although Thomas had long been adored by collectors and academics, his talent remained unknown to the general public for more than three decades after his death until 2009, when President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama included his work among the paintings they painted. installed in the White House.
The exhibit explores Thomas’ relationship with the Washington Color School, the creative communities linked to Howard University, and peers who have protested museums that have failed to exhibit artists of color. “Throughout his career, the art departments and galleries of historically black colleges and universities have provided Thomas with vital support,” said senior curator of the Frist Art Museum, Trinita Kennedy. âHer closest ties were to Howard University, her alma mater, and where she debuted in her abstract style – what she called ‘Alma’s Stripes’ – in 1966. This exhibit marked the beginning of his meteoric rise in the art world. “
As they peruse the galleries, guests will discover the archetypal spaces where Thomas expressed his creativity, including the studio, garden, theater, community sites such as schools and churches, universities and the art scene that spanned from Washington, DC, New York and beyond through the Art in Embassies program. Thomas’ presence will also be evoked through recreations of her distinctive dresses with bold geometric patterns, a new documentary about her life and career, and the music she listened to as she painted. A playlist accessible at the start of the exhibition allows visitors to hear the artist’s favorite songs, including Ray Stevens’ hit “Everything Is Beautiful”, recorded in Nashville in 1970. The audio tour was written by The Phillips Collection, and there will also be an interactive touchscreen that offers guests the opportunity to explore Thomas’ historical exhibits.
The Frist is one of four museums featuring this tribute to Thomas. âHere in Nashville, special attention will be paid to the 1971 Thomas exhibition curated by David C. Driskell at the Carl Van Vechten Art Gallery at Fisk University,â Kennedy said. “It was Driskell who drew Thomas’ attention to the Whitney Museum, and the two exhibits have a lot in common.” Everything’s Beautiful begins with a partial re-enactment of the 1972 Whitney show, including a re-enactment of the dress Thomas commissioned to complete his art and which she wore until the opening.
4 The success of Thomas’ remarkable past years tends to eclipse her previous decades of dedication to various local organizations, her diverse creative interests, and the way she viewed the natural world as an enduring source of inspiration. The titles and forms of Thomas’ beloved abstract paintings demonstrate his interest in flora and fauna, music, space travel, and spirituality.
âThomas rose to fame in the art world, but considered art education to be his greatest legacy,â Kennedy said.
The Frist will highlight Thomas’ thirty-five year tenure at Shaw Junior High in Washington, DC, by presenting a concurrent exhibit titled Nashville Art Teachers: Beyond the Classroom that salutes the extraordinary art teachers of our own community and their heroic efforts during the difficult circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. It features the work of elementary, high school and high school art teachers working in Davidson County, Tennessee and will be on view from March 4 to August 28, 2022.
âHalf a century after Alma Thomas exhibited at Fisk University, this retrospective gives Nashvillians a new opportunity to revel in all the beauty Thomas recognized in our imperfect world and left behind,â said Kennedy.
Details on additional programs will be posted on FristArtMuseum.org.