THE SAINT LOUIS ART MUSEUM is benefitting from the largess of a collector who developed an appreciation for art through visiting the institution as a child. Ronald Ollie grew up in St. Louis and was exposed to the museum by his parents. Eventually he became an art collector.
Now based in New Jersey, Ollie retired after a three-decde career in business development. Over the years, along with his wife, Monique McRipley Ollie, he assembled an impressive collection of works by contemporary African American artists including Terry Adkins, Benny Andrews, Chakaia Booker, Alonzo Davis, Sam Gilliam, Stanley Whitney, and Jack Whitten. On Monday, the couple made a major gift to the Saint Louis Art Museum. Named for his parents, the Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Art Collection features 81 mostly abstract works in a range of mediums including paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and sculpture.
“This transformative gift is a testament to years of passionate collecting that is both focused and far reaching,” Brent R. Benjamin, director of the Saint Louis Art Museum, said in a statement. “I am deeply grateful to Ronald and Monique Ollie, whose generosity will help our visitors enjoy a richer and more diverse understanding of postwar American art.”
“I am deeply grateful to Ronald and Monique Ollie, whose generosity will help our visitors enjoy a richer and more diverse understanding of postwar American art.” — Brent R. Benjamin, Director of Saint Louis Art Museum
STANLEY WHITNEY, “Out into the Open,” 1992 (unframed, acrylic on canvas, 53.5 × 60 inches). | Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection. E14521.79 © Stanley Whitney
The museum cited some examples from the gift:
Among the highlights of the collection are important groupings of work by [Ed] Clark and [Al] Loving showcasing these artists’ fascination with formal experiment; [Stanley] Whitney’s richly colorful “Out into the Open,” in which the artist invigorates a long modernist tradition of the grid in abstract painting; and [Sam] Gilliam’s radical draped painting, “Half Circle Red,” where the canvas stretcher has been removed.
Works on paper number among the great strengths in the collection. [Robert] Blackburn’s iconic lithograph “Faux Pas” places him squarely at the origin of post-war printmaking in America. Numerous drawings and collages represent multiple generations of artists ranging from [Norman] Lewis and [Herbert] Gentry, whose careers began in the mid-20th century; to Gilliam and Clark, who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s; to Whitney and [James] Little, who are at the heights of their careers.
The gift includes works by 33 artists. Only four are women—Chakaia Booker, Nanette Carter, Evangeline Montgomery, and Mary Lovelace O’Neal. Each of them are featured in “Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today,” currently on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. The groundbreaking exhibition is described as the “first in the U.S. to explore the formal and historical dialogue on abstraction among African American women artists.”
Based on his own enriching experience, Ollie wanted to entrust the family collection to the museum to help bolster its ability to educate. Toward that end, the couple’s gift includes an archive of related books, ephemera and other research materials to “support the study of the collection and provide a basis for future scholarship.”
The museum plans an exhibition of selected works from the Ollie collection in 2019 and will also publish an accompanying catalog.
In a statement, Ollie explained how he envisioned the gift would benefit the public good: “My wife and I share the Saint Louis Art Museum’s commitment of advancing knowledge while introducing art to people of all ages and backgrounds. The museum’s collection helped ignite my passion—we are delighted to know works we have stewarded might do the same for future generations.” CT
“Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis” was published to coincide with the artist’s first major retrospective. A few recent volumes explore Stanley Whitney’s work. “Stanley Whitney: Dance the Orange” documents his Studio Museum in Harlem exhibition; “Stanley Whitney” accompanied a show at Lisson Gallery; and “Stanley Whitney” surveys his practice from 1978 to 2015. Published posthumously, “Terry Adkins: Recital” is the late artist’s first career-spanning volume. Married collectors Pamela Joyner and Fred Giuffrida have also built a collection focused on African American abstract art. “Four Generations: The Joyner Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art” documents their holdings.
JACK WHITTEN, “Self-Portrait”, 1993 (collage of painted paper, unframed, 22 × 29 inches). | Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection E14521.67 © Jack Whitten
NORMAN LEWIS, “Untitled,” n.d. (work on paper, unframed, 18 × 24 inches). | Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection E14521.53 © Estate of Norman W. Lewis; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY
JAMES LITTLE, “Double Exposure,” 2008 (oil and wax on canvas, unframed, 39 × 50 inches). | Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection E14521.76 © James Little
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