David Driskell

Narratives of African American Art and Identity...

David C. Driskell the Collector

David Driskell has assembled a significant collection that includes art, archival materials photographs, and films. These objects represent over 40 years of collecting and they help to document the contribution made by African Americans to the American cultural landscape. Although Driskell’s primary focus as a collector has been African American art, he collects African, European, and Asian art as well as antiques and rare books. It is out of the wealth of the Driskell Collection that the exhibition, Narratives of African American Art and Identity: The David C. Driskell Collection, has emerged.

In addition, David Driskell has played a key role in assisting many institutions and individuals assemble collections of African American art. Of particular note is his work with historically black colleges and with the Cosby Collection of African American Art.

On Collecting-

"I have tried to keep in mind that my concept of collecting should not be altogether personal and local. Behind all of this is a purpose, and the purpose is eventually to be a broad educational one beyond myself, beyond my family, so that in the future, people will look back and say that African Americans collected because they cared about their culture, about their heritage, about their art…It’s a legacy for our children, our children’s children…Here is evidence of the fact that we have cared from the very beginning, and when we’ve had a chance, the economic means to do this, we collect like everybody else. It is a part of the American spirit of collecting."

- David C. Driskell

The following excerpts were taken from the essay, “Driskell the Collector” by Keith Morrison, which appears in the exhibition catalogue, Narratives of African American Art and Identity: The David C. Driskell Collection, published by Pomegranate and available from The Art Gallery at the University of Maryland.

David Driskell's full collection spans almost four decades and includes African art, nineteenth-century African American art, European art, and Euro-American art. This exhibition, curated by Juanita Holland, represents a selection from
Benin Hip Amulet, 18th c.

The David C.
Driskell Collection
the twentieth-century African American portion of his collection. It is not intended that the works in this exhibition represent a comprehensive overview of African American art, although they are an outstanding collection of art by some of the best-known African American artists of more than the last hundred years. And, very significantly, much of it is art the collector acquired from personal experience with the artists, as colleague, teacher, mentor, or friend. David has acquired his collection mostly through purchase and through exchange with other artists. As I will describe later, his own art demonstrates, in the final analysis, that his collection is a dimension of his personal aesthetics as an artist and helped shape his approach to African American art history.

View Of Edo, 19th c.
Utagawa Hiroshige
Ukiyo-e Print

The David C.
Driskell Collection
The dimension that association with a wide array of students and scholars brought to Driskell was a wider consciousness, from the eyes of younger people, of global thinking in a changing world. This perspective is an important part of the Driskell Collection, which is largely characterized by a diverse range of socio-aesthetic thought as much as it is by stylistic harmony. Put another way, the collection reveals as much about the social history of the collector's time as it does about an aesthetic progression in art. It shows some of the range of choices by African American artists over the last 200 years and exemplifies that their ideas were from their own cultural point of view.

Driskell's collection has been selected with profound knowledge of art history but especially with the collector-artist's perspective of that discipline. He documents not only art of the past but art that expresses his own view of life. His collection reveals much of what has
Self Portrait, 1639
Rembrandt van Rijn

The David C.
Driskell Collection
interested him about African American art, especially in painting and sculpture: traditional aesthetics through the lens of the African American social experience. His collection reflects his own private interests, as revealed in his lifestyle. There are few high-tech multimedia images in the Driskell Collection; there are no themes of cyberspace, nor is there cutting-edge experimental art or conceptual art. The reason is not that he is oblivious to these things. Far from being oblivious, David Driskell has been a champion and supporter of new art and of many young artists of both sexes and different races. In 1971, he hired sculptor Martin Puryear to teach sculpture and photography at Fisk University. It was Puryear's first teaching job on the college level. Driskell also has been a strong advocate for women artists, writing rebuttals in the national press to the opinions expressed by Hilton Kramer and other conservative critics who do not support institutions such as the National Museum for Women in the Arts and the National Center for Afro-American Art.

However, like any good curator, Driskell hones his own point of view. Thus, consistently among the works collected are themes of African art, African American history, and culture, as exemplified by Jacob Lawrence's Confrontation at the
The Black Madonna, 1974
Walter Williams
mixed media

The David C.
Driskell Collection
Bridge or, in this exhibition, the works of Augusta Savage, such as her Gamin, Elizabeth Catlett's Seated Mother and Child, or Romare Bearden's collage Morning. Christianity, a central part of the life of the collector, is to be found in many of the works in Driskell's collection, such as Walter Williams's Black Madonna or, in this exhibition, William H. Johnson's I Baptize Thee. Nature, the earth, and soil - so beloved to Driskell - also are themes in the collection. An avid gardener, Driskell, in the tradition of his Southern forefathers, venerates the land. See how various forms of nature are revealed in works featured in this exhibition, such as Alma Thomas's Falling Leaves Love Wind Orchestra, Ellis Wilson's Untitled (Fish in Net), or Edward M. Bannister's Landscape with Pond. Long fascinated with African craftsmanship and its relationship to African American art, Driskell has documented it in art history as well as in his own collection, as in the meticulously beaded Yoruba crown or the Yoruba Gelede mask and,
Yoruba Beaded Crown and Cap, early 20th c.
Glass beads, cloth

The David C.
Driskell Collection
in this exhibition, the montage technique of Sam Gilliam's The D Series.

In this collection one sees not only African American art but the values of the collector himself in the relationships with other artists that he has cultivated and in the personal values that he has nurtured. It is here that the life, art, education, and passion of David C. Driskell come together to create one of the singular African American collections of our time in a narrative of African American art.

-Keith Morrison


David Driskell
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