Mott-Warsh Art Collection Offers New Pieces on View in Thompson Library

Four new pieces have arrived at Thompson Library — on loan from the Mott-Warsh Art Collection.

The art collection, owned by The Maryanne Mott and Herman Warsh Collection, contains samples of some of the very best late 20th century works by African American artists.

The mission of the Mott-Warsh Collection is to present contemporary fine art to public audiences in non-traditional venues as well as educational and cultural institutions.   University of Michigan-Flint (with its strong historical ties to the Mott family of Flint, Michigan) and the Thompson Library in particular fit perfectly with the mission and vision statements established by Maryanne Mott and her late husband, Herman Warsh.

The entire Mott-Warsh Collection currently consists of works by over 125 artists, featuring 20th century masters such as Romare Bearden and Elizabeth Catlett to new and innovative artists of the early 21st century, and includes a broad array of work from the abstract to the representative.  Common to all pieces within the collection is the focus on unique cultural and social experiences of Africans and Americans of African descent living and working in western (American) society.

Maryanne and Herman begun collecting their art with the intent to assemble and preserve rare works of art endemic to the African community and make them available to the wider audience through its lending program with the intent to educate viewers in art appreciation, art making processes, art history, 20th century American history and the history of the African diaspora.

The Collection contains over four hundred works and is supported by the Mott-Warsh research library which has assembled monographs, exhibition catalogs, auction catalogs and journals with subject concentrations in African American art as well as information on fine arts collection management.

Selected works from the Mott-Warsh Collection are currently on display at several locations around Flint, including the Flint Institute of Music, the Flint Public Library, the Ruth Mott Foundation, Mott Community College, Applewood, Kettering University Innovation Center and other locations.

Nationally, pieces are on loan at such renowned institutions as the Museum of Contemporary Art (San Diego), Wexner Center for the Arts (Ohio State University), Walker Art Center, Denver Art Museum, Rudenstine Gallery (W.E.B. DuBois Institute, Harvard University), the Seattle Art Museum, the Atlanta Center for Contemporary Art, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (Hartford), the Institute of Contemporary Arts (Boston) and many other museums and art galleries around the nation.

Thompson Library is proud to be numbered among such fine institutions in being selected as a location to display pieces from the Mott-Warsh Collection.

We would like to acknowledge the efforts of Mr. Michael Doyle — Mickey — who numbers among our reference librarians and serves as our Head of Access Services — for being instrumental in arranging our library’s participation as a display site for works from this esteemed collection.

Our first pieces were installed earlier in March of this year.   Those have been cycled out and the new pieces are now on display.  To view, enter the Thompson Library (3rd floor) and walk directly to the far wall.


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Picture5The first piece in the new series is by the Canadian-born artist Julie Moos (b. 1965) titled Domestic:  Earnestine and Gaynelle, a photograph from 2001.   Description of her work on display follows:

Ms. Moos uses photography to explore the complex relationships between human beings.  Using a 4 x 5 camera to make her large-scale color photographs, she usually shoots her subjects in pairs, straightforward and in a direct manner that charges the photo with tension.  Photographed in front of a neutral backdrop, the individuals show no interaction, making their connection to one another ambiguous.  The viewer is left to examine the sitters’ body language, facial expressions and styles of clothing and hair for clues.

In the series, Domestic, Moos examines the relationships that develop between domestic servants and their employers.  In all but one of the photographs in the series, Moos pairs a Caucasian with a person of African descent.  Sitting side by side in comparable attire, the class of each individual is not obvious, which forces us to guess whom the housekeeper and homeowner might be.  The conclusions drawn may say something of our assumptions about class as it relates to race.  In the case of Domestic:  Earnestine and Gaynelle, we are prompted to confront assumptions of a different sort, in considering the relationships between employer and employee of the same race.  The series also calls into question our assumptions about the type of bond shared by these individuals who spend a significant amount of time together in a domestic space.


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photo (4)The second piece in the new display is by Emma Amos (b. 1938), a lithograph titled Bootstraps (1997).  Description of this work follows:

An artist accomplished in several media, Emma Amos confronts and explores difficult issues concerning politics, gender, race and cultural history in her work.  In Bootstraps, Amos combines silhouetted portraits with text to provoke deeper consideration of a politically charged term.  The term alludes to the phrase, “pull oneself up by ones bootstrap,” which is a metaphor meaning to better oneself by one’s own unaided efforts.  It has been used by some politicians and officials who oppose affirmative action.  Here, Amos links the phrase to two such African Americans, political activist Ward Connerly and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Amos earned her undergraduate degrees from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and the Central School of Art in London, England.  She continued her education and pursued her master of fine arts degree at New York University, New York.  During the 1960s, she was invited to join Spiral, a group of prominent artists including Romare Bearden and Charles Alston, whose goal was to address African American issues through art.  Amos was the only female member.  A distinguished artist, Amos has received many awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation.

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photo (3)Third in the new display items is a serigraph entitled Michelle O (2008) by the artist Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971).  Description of this piece follows:

This serigraph print of First Lady Michelle Obama might be considered a very subdued artwork for artist Mickalene Thomas, who is best known for her elaborate acrylic paintings accented with rhinestones, enamel, and other unconventional materials.  Typically, her subjects are African American women, presented in seductive poses and attire.  Thomas likes to explore notions of black female identity and challenge ideas about beauty, femininity, and power.

The portrait of Ms. Obama was the first individual portrait of the First Lady to be created.  Like Thomas’ other work, the print is far from conservative, using stark, bold, coloration and a reductive style as opposed to a traditional, detailed rendering of the sitter.  It as part of the exhibit, Americans Now at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC (August 2010 – June 2011).

Thomas received her B.F.A. from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY and her M.F.A. from Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.  She has exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions and her work is in notable permanent collections.  Currently she is an artist in residence at the Versailles Foundations Munn Artists Program in Giverny, France.

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Last of the four pieces currently on display is by artist Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976).  Titled Priceless (2004), it is a lightject photographic print.     Description of this final piece is as follows:

Priceless is part of the larger series, titled B(r)anded, that explores and subsequently appropriates the language of advertising.  The artist states,

By employing the ubiquitous language of advertising in my work< I am able to talk explicitly about race, class and history in a medium that almost everyone can decode.  What makes a corporate logo so alluring?  I am in awe of the fact that ad campaigns can embed a simple meaningless logo with enough meaning and legitimacy to fuel multi-billion dollar global industries.

Much of the work focuses on the use of African American male body in advertisements.  I am interested in the connection between this body type and the cotton and slave trade industries that brought this country so much wealth …  My goal with the work is to employ the familiar …  to draw connections and provide conversations about issues and histories that are often forgotten or avoided in our commerce-infused daily lives.

In Priceless, Thomas appropriates a popular marketing slogan used by MasterCard to draw attention to the cycle of violence prevalent in the African American community.  The photograph was taken by the artist at the funeral of his cousin, Songha Willis Thomas, who was the victim of a tragic and senseless murder in 2000.  Through this work, Thomas grapples with his own frustration and that shared by others who have suffered loss.

Hank Willis Thomas studied art and photography in New York University earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in late 1992.  He continued his education at California College of the Arts, earning his Master in Fine Arts in photography and a Master of Arts in Art Criticism.  He currently works and lives in New York City.


Please stop by soon to view this limited collection, and others that will be on display in our library in the future.