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by Dr. Sara Hollis

A painting by Robert Colescott and a sculpture by Willie Birch at NOMA after being gifted to the museum by Arthur Roger.
Arthur Roger has donated 80 works of art from his personal collection to the New Orleans Museum of Art. This stunning gift to the community is made even more important by the breadth of the backgrounds of the artists whose works he has shown and represented at his gallery, Arthur Roger Gallery. He was a pioneer in showing contemporary art by local artists, women artists, and African American artists when other galleries had not begun showing any of these.

Added to NOMA’s holdings as a result of the Arthur Roger gift are works by local artists John Scott, Willie Birch, Dapper Bruce Lafitte as well as artists from other parts of the country, including Gordan Parks and Robert Colescott. All of the 80 works of art in the gift to NOMA are on display in the main galleries at the back of the first floor at NOMA. It is a walk through of contemporary art in America, with an emphasis on New Orleans artists.

The piece by Willie Birch in the Arthur Roger gift, “An American Family”, is a large and imposing sculpture in papier-mache’ and mixed media. Birch divides his time between New York and New Orleans. He has established a long, national reputation and is the subject of several books. He was already in the permanent collection at NOMA and has had several exhibitions there.

This Gordon Parks photograph, “Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama” is now a part of NOMA’s collection thansk to a gift from Arthur Roger.
The late John T. Scott, who was also already in the collection at NOMA, created the sculptural gates outside the gift shop, and had a major retrospective exhibition there. While he is best known as a sculptor, the work by Scott in the Arthur Roger Collection gift is a huge inked woodblock, titled “Mayann”.

Bruce Davenport, Jr., now known as Dapper Bruce Lafitte, is represented in the gift by a huge pen and marker drawing on paper titled, “I’m a NOLA Art Beast”. He has shown at a number of galleries locally, nationally and internationally, bringing many New Orleans traditions such as school bands, second lines and Mardi Gras Indians to life in drawings with hundreds of figures and writings in between the actions in the works.

There was a major exhibition of Gordon Parks photography at NOMA which Parks attended. His work in the Arthur Roger gift is a family portrait titled, “Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama.” It is an archival pigment print. Gordon Parks was known to most Americans through his photo essays in Life magazine. His works are also shown in galleries all over the world, including Arthur Roger Gallery; and there are a number of books focusing on his photography.

Robert Colescott is represented in the gift by a huge acrylic painting on canvas titled “Power for Desire-Desire for Power”. The scale is typical for his works in both size and composition. This one is 90 x 104 inches and is populated with a number of figures crowded into the space of the canvas.

A catalog, Pride of Place: The Making of Contemporary Art in New Orleans, has been published by the New Orleans Museum of Art for this gift/exhibition. The exhibition curator is Katie A. Pfohl, Ph.D. The graphic designer is Phillip Collier Design Studio. The copy editor is David Johnson. The printer is the Four Color Print Group. It is available in the gift shop at NOMA. There is a wonderful interview with Arthur Roger in the catalog with artist and filmmaker John Waters. It also includes essays by Susan B. Taylor, Katie A. Pfohl, PhD, and William Fagaly, color photographs of all the works in the exhibition, as well as a history of the gallery in a section toward the back.

Arthur Roger grew from a small gallery on Magazine Street, which I used to visit and where I bought my first Georgia O’Keeffe catalog, to a huge gallery on Julia Street where he could exhibit museum size paintings and sculptures. He expanded to New York with a gallery in SOHO to bring New Orleans art to New York.

The exhibit is a must see and will be on display at NOMA until Sept. 3. The New Orleans Museum of Art is free on Wednesdays to residents of Louisiana. The museum celebrates Friday Nights at NOMA until 9 p.m. with music, art classes for children, lectures, and films.
For more information and schedules, visit NOMA’s website at www.noma.org.

Dr. Sara Hollis is a professor in the museum studies graduate program at SUNO. She can be reached at shollis@suno.edu. Applications are being accepted for Fall 2017. The program’s director, Dr. Haitham Eid, can be reached at heid@suno.edu or 504-286-5010.

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