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Acquisitions

UMMA Acquires Major Washington Color School Canvas

In late April, a distinctive new addition to the Museum’s suite of modern and contemporary galleries in the Frankel Wing made its presence felt. Thanks to the generosity of Brenda and Larry Thompson (UM Law, 1974), renowned American artist Sam Gilliam visited Ann Arbor to install Alber’s Chain, one of his signature drape paintings, in its new home. Gilliam (born 1933) was an integral member of the Washington Color School and the influential umbrella Color Field movement known for soaking or staining large areas of canvas with color. Alber’s Chain (2008), the first major Washington Color School piece to enter the Museum’s collections, takes its place among and enhances UMMA’s strong postwar abstract American holdings on view.

What makes Gilliam’s drape paintings so spectacular, and why they were so radical in the late 1960s when he first exhibited them, is the artist’s discarding of the canvas stretcher bar altogether. Without it, the material is tacked to the wall, allowing it to naturally and rhythmically fold and crease and become three-dimensional.

Brenda and Larry Thompson first became acquainted with Gilliam’s work in the early 1990s and were immediately drawn to the form and structure of his abstractions. After two early acquisitions, they decided to add one of his drape paintings to their growing collection of African American art. However the couple ultimately decided that Alber’s Chain rightly belonged in a public collection.

“The University of Michigan Museum of Art was a perfect fit—we love Michigan and we love Sam’s work,” said Brenda Thompson. “Through this gift we hope generations to come will experience his work and recognize the breadth of Sam’s artistic achievements.”

Stephanie Rieke Miller
External Relations Manager and Senior Writer