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The Shape of Abstraction: Selections from the Ollie Collection presents paintings, drawings, and prints by five generations of black artists that have revolutionized abstract art since the 1940s. The exhibition includes Norman Lewis’s gestural drawings, Sam Gilliam’s radically shaped paintings, James Little’s experiments with color, and Chakaia Booker’s explorations in printmaking, among many others. Despite their significant contributions, many of these accomplished artists have remained largely under-recognized and omitted from the existing narrative of art history. However, the re-examination and celebration of this history is underway. 

In 2017, St. Louis native Ronald Ollie and his wife, Monique, gave the Saint Louis Art Museum a transformative collection of 81 works by black abstractionists. Ollie spent decades collecting, often befriending the artists and forming long, collaborative relationships. He grew up visiting the Museum with his parents, who nurtured his deep appreciation for art. This exhibition draws from and celebrates the Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, which was named in honor of his parents.

The Shape of Abstraction: Selections from the Ollie Collection is curated by Gretchen L. Wagner, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; and Alexis Assam, 2018–2019 Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Fellow.

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Explore Archival Materials

Ronald and Monique Ollie also gave the Museum archival materials related to the collection, including exhibition catalogs, gallery ephemera, documentaries, and bibliographies. A selection of these materials will be on view in The Shape of Abstraction. The full inventory of archival material is available online and can be accessed by appointment in the Museum’s Richardson Memorial Library.

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