By Ashley Smith
Samford University has partnered with the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Maus Contemporary art gallery and the Wiregrass Museum to present the first Alabama solo exhibition for the late Thornton Dial Sr.
The overall multi-venue retrospective will include “Thornton Dial: I, Too, Am Alabama” at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts at UAB. It presents seminal works from the 1980s alongside major works from the height of his production and some of his later works.
At Samford, “I, Too, Am Thornton Dial,” curated by Paul Barrett, focuses on Dial’s works on paper. It will then travel to the Wiregrass Museum of Art in Dothan and then onto the Louisiana State University Museum of Art.
“Anyone Can Move a Mountain,” at Maus Contemporary, will feature works by the artists commissioned to write for AEIVA’s catalog.
Although works on paper are sometimes dismissed, the Samford exhibition makes the case that Dial’s drawings are as significant to his practice as his monumental assemblages and powerful in their own right. It includes drawings on loan from the Dial family and public and private collections, with many works never before exhibited or published.
Before “I, Too, Am Thornton Dial,” only “Thornton Dial: Thoughts on Paper,” organized by the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has previously focused on the strength of Dial’s drawings. That exhibit also was shown at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in 2013.
“We are most fortunate to have works loaned from the Dial family and other significant private collections, including Samford alumni,” Barrett said. “Their generosity allowed me to show a great variety of techniques and subject matter. The inclusion of two major paintings and a selection of small sculptures from the 1980s provides context so visitors can connect the works on paper with both earlier and later Thornton Dial works.”
Along with a range of works on paper, this exhibition features a 2007 photograph of Thornton Dial in his studio in McCalla, taken by Jerry Siegel. The image had never been printed before and was selected specifically for this exhibition. Another portrait of Thornton Dial’s created that day was selected for the cover of Siegel’s first monograph, “Facing South: Portraits of Southern Artists,” published in 2012.
Barrett said he hoped visitors to the exhibit being shown at the Samford University Art Gallery Sept. 15-Dec. 2 will also visit “Anyone Can Move a Mountain” at Maus Contemporary, open through Oct. 1, and “Thornton Dial: I, Too, Am Alabama” at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts at UAB Sept. 9-Dec. 10.
“Working alongside guest curator Paul Barrett and having Samford Art Gallery be included in his historic visionary multi-venue curatorial project has been especially inspiring,” Lauren Evans, gallery director and assistant professor of art at Samford, said. “I can’t wait to witness the widespread impact that presenting Thornton Dial’s work here on our campus promises to provide to both Samford and our Birmingham community.”
Dial, 1928-2016, was one of Alabama’s most critically acclaimed artists, and his works can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the High Museum of Art, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, the Birmingham Museum of Art and numerous other important institutions.
His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the American Folk Art Museum, the New Museum, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Indianapolis Museum of Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, Mint Museum and the High Museum of Art.
A catalog featuring new essays and many artworks never presented to the public will be available at the opening reception Sept. 15, 4:30-7 p.m. The exhibit is made possible through a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the MISA Collaborative, a partnership between Samford University and Miles College.
The Samford Art Gallery is in 153 Swearingen Hall, which is free to enter and open to the public Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.