Common Wealth: Art by African Americans in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

BOSTON, MA (January 14, 2015)—The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), holds one of the most significant collections of art by African Americans in the nation, including works by almost every major African-American artist working during the past century and a half. A new book, Common Wealth: Art by African Americans in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA Publications, 256 pages, $50, January 2015), celebrates this collection, which includes the work of African-American artists from the 19th century to the present. Featured are leading figures such as Thomas Day, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Loïs Mailou Jones, Wifredo Lam, Gordon Parks, James Richmond Barthé, Kara Walker, Glenn Ligon and Kerry James Marshall, along with other, lesser-known artists who deserve more recognition, including artists from the African diaspora in South America and the Caribbean. Arranged thematically and featuring authoritative texts that provide historical and interpretive context, the book presents a wealth of artistic expression that addresses common experiences and confronts questions of identity and community. Unique themes explored in the book include Street Life; Spirituality; Abstraction; Family and Community; Masks and Symbols; and Dance, Music and Song; among others. Author Lowery Stokes Sims, William and Mildred Lasdon Chief Curator of the Museum of Arts and Design and former president of the Studio Museum of Harlem, frames a discussion highlighting 100 works in the MFA’s collection, including many recent acquisitions from The John Axelrod Collection.  Axelrod, an Eminent Benefactor, has been a long time supporter of representing art by African Americans at the MFA, and provided funds to support the production of Common Wealth.

“It has been a privilege to work with Lowery, as she has been important and generous mentor to each of the scholars whose passion for art by African Americans helped bring this book to fruition,” said Elliot Bostwick Davis, a contributor to Common Wealth and John Moors Cabot Chair, Art of the Americas at the MFA. “We are very proud to launch Common Wealth, which highlights the dedication of the Art of Americas department and, more broadly, the MFA for acquiring works of remarkable creativity that inspire all of us, and that recognizes the immeasurable contributions of African American artists to our visual culture.”

Beginning in 1969, the MFA collaborated with the National Center of Afro-American Artists and Director Barry Gaither to organize exhibitions and advise on acquisitions. Since 2001, the Museum has made a concentrated effort to increase the representation of works by artists of color in the Art of the Americas department and throughout the collection.  In 2005, the Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection was established for the purpose of diversifying the Museum’s collection. The Heritage Fund provides acquisition funds for works by American artists of color, broadly defined, and other art that broadens the visitor experience by presenting a more complete record of American culture. To celebrate Common Wealth and art by African Americans, the MFA is producing a self-guided tour to the Museum’s collection.

Common Wealth: Art by African Americans in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston also includes contributions by Dennis Carr (Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture), Janet L. Comey, Aiden Faust, Nonie Gadsden (Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture), Edmund Barry Gaither, Karen Haas (Lane Curator of Photographs), Erica E. Hirshler (Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings), Kelly Hays L’Ecuyer, Taylor L. Poulin and Karen Quinn (Kristin and Roger Servison Curator of Paintings, Art of the Americas).

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is recognized for the quality and scope of its collection, which includes an estimated 500,000 objects. The Museum has more than 140 galleries displaying its encyclopedic collection, which includes Art of the Americas; Art of Europe; Contemporary Art; Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa; Art of the Ancient World; Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; Textile and Fashion Arts; and Musical Instruments. Open seven days a week, the MFA’s hours are Saturday through Tuesday, 10 am–4:45 pm; and Wednesday through Friday, 10 am–9:45 pm Admission (which includes one repeat visit within 10 days) is $25 for adults and $23 for seniors and students age 18 and older, and includes entry to all galleries and special exhibitions. Admission is free for University Members and youths age 17 and younger on weekdays after 3 pm, weekends, and Boston Public Schools holidays; otherwise $10. Wednesday nights after 4 pm admission is by voluntary contribution (suggested donation $25). MFA Members are always admitted for free. The Museum’s mobile MFA Guide is available at ticket desks and the Sharf Visitor Center for $5, members; $6, non-members; and $4, youths. The Museum is closed on New Year’s Day, Patriots’ Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For more information, visit or call 617.267.9300. The MFA is located on the Avenue of the Arts at 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.