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Indianapolis Museum of Art Announces Comprehensive Exhibition of the Work of Thornton Dial

Exhibition to cover two decades of the artist’s socially and politically charged work

The most extensive exhibition ever mounted of Thornton Dial’s painting and sculpture will premiere at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, on view from February 25, 2011, to May 15, 2011. Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial will highlight the artist’s significant contribution to the field of American art and show how Dial’s work speaks to the most pressing issues of our time—including the War in Iraq, 9/11, and social issues like racism and homelessness. The exhibition will present 70 of Dial’s large-scale paintings, drawings and found-object sculptures spanning twenty years of his artistic career—including 25 works on view for the first time.

Thornton Dial, Don’t Matter How Raggly the Flag, It Still Got To Tie Us Together, 2003

Thornton Dial’s work draws inspiration from the rich expressive traditions of the black South. With no formal art education, Dial developed a truly distinctive and original style. Influenced by African American yard shows, Dial’s work incorporates salvaged objects—from plastic grave flowers and children’s toys to carpet scraps and animal skeletons—to create highly charged assemblages that tackle a wide range of social and political subjects. His art touches on topics ranging from the dilemmas of labor and the abuse of the natural environment to meditations on significant recent political and cultural moments—with a particular focus on the struggles of historically marginalized groups such as women, the rural poor, and the impoverished underclass. Born out of decades of the artist’s own struggle as a working-class black man, Dial’s work also explores the history of racial oppression in America, from slavery through the Civil Rights Movement and into the post-modern era.

“The work of Thornton Dial offers powerful insight into the most compelling political and social issues of our time,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, The Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO of the IMA. “This exhibition will bring long-overdue recognition to Thornton Dial’s remarkable career and make this important artist’s work accessible to new audiences.”

“Thornton Dial speaks in a powerful voice long overlooked in the canons of modern art and culture,” said Joanne Cubbs, the IMA’s adjunct curator of American Art. “His giant, refuse-laden canvases and found-object sculptures are rooted in a number of influential but little known art forms from the black South, while his unique merging of aesthetics, history, and social conscience stirs our imagination, inspires our humanity, and moves the discourse of contemporary art into remarkable new territory.”

Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial will include 70 paintings, drawings, and sculptural works as it surveys two decades of the artist’s career. Highlights of the exhibition include the 1992 work “The Last Day of Martin Luther King,” which examines the life, death and transformative message of the assassinated political leader, and “Victory in Iraq” from 2004, a ten-foot canvas that incorporates barbed wire and iconic symbols of America’s role in world conflict. Additionally, a Dial work recently acquired by the IMA will be on view in the exhibition—“Don’t Matter How Raggly the Flag, It Still Got To Tie Us Together,” which dates from 2003 and evokes the image of a torn and ravaged American flag that nevertheless serves to unite us. The earliest work included in the exhibition will be the 1991 drawing “Refugees in Love.” Among the show’s many recent works is the 2009 piece “Turtle Holding Flag,” which celebrates President Obama’s inauguration.

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