Thanks to a Bank of America grant, Atlanta’s High Museum of Art in November will begin a yearlong project to conserve 10 of its most complex works by renowned contemporary American artist Thornton Dial (1928–2016).
The High is one of 22 nonprofit institutions receiving money through the bank’s Art Conservation Project. It declined to specify how much it will receive and what the Dial project will cost. The museum is home to the largest public collection of Dial’s work, including paintings and assemblages that span his entire 30-year career. The collection is a cornerstone of the High’s folk and self-taught art department.
The museum was one of the first to acquire Dial’s art, beginning in the 1990s with such mixed-media works as Struggling Tiger Know His Way Out (1991), the earliest piece that will be conserved. Also undergoing examination and treatment are Birmingham News (1997) and Looking Out the Windows (2002). Both came to the High as part of a major 2017 gift/purchase of Dial’s work from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.
Dial, who lived and worked in Alabama, addressed a wide range of subjects, from human rights to natural disasters and current events. He used a wide range of media, including metals, wood, textiles and plastics, the High said in a statement. Due to the interactions between these materials — and the fact that Dial had already repurposed most of them — they require analysis and treatment. Dial’s assemblages also contain parts that can loosen over time.
The museum will do a full assessment of the 10 works using analytical and imaging techniques to capture each one’s intricacy and create a baseline understanding of Dial’s fabrication practices and how his materials have deteriorated over time. Katherine Jentleson, the High’s curator of folk and self-taught art, will lead the effort.
“Like many contemporary artists, Dial did not limit himself to traditional materials,” Jentleson said in the statement. “I am thrilled that . . . we will be able to serve Dial’s tremendous legacy but also make discoveries that will inform treatments of complex works by a varied array of artists, both self-taught and trained.”