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James Little, American, born 1952; “Double Exposure”, 2008; oil and wax on canvas; 39 × 50 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, The Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection, Gift of Ronald and Monique Ollie 190:2017; © June Kelly Gallery / James Little

ST. LOUIS, May 30, 2019—The Saint Louis Art Museum will celebrate the recent gift of the Thelma and Bert Ollie Memorial Collection with an exhibition of 40 abstract paintings, drawings and prints by black artists. “The Shape of Abstraction: Selections from the Ollie Collection” opens Sept. 17 in Galleries 234 and 235. The exhibition closes March 22, 2020.

New Jersey-based collector Ronald Maurice Ollie and his wife, Monique McRipley Ollie, gave 81 works of art to the museum in 2017. This collection is named in honor of Ronald Ollie’s parents, Thelma and Bert Ollie, who were frequent visitors to the museum and instilled in him and his siblings a deep appreciation of art.

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“The Ollie collection does far more than enhance the Saint Louis Art Museum’s existing strength in postwar abstraction; it places the museum squarely within an expanding field of exploration, as the narratives around the history of abstraction grow more inclusive and heterogeneous,” said Brent R. Benjamin, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. “This gift illuminates the diverse body of abstract work made by black artists, whose profound contributions in this mode of expression have begun to receive greater recognition.”

Monique McRipley Ollie and Ronald Maurice Ollie

The title of the exhibition refers to a poem that Quincy Troupe wrote in response to the artworks included in the Ollie gift. Troupe featured a number of the artists in “Black Renaissance Noire,” a journal he edits that is published by the Institute of African American Affairs at New York University. The poem—titled “The Shape of Abstraction; for Ron Ollie”— will be published in the exhibition catalogue.

Important paintings in the exhibition include Stanley Whitney’s richly colorful “Out into the Open,” in which the artist reinvigorates the modernist tradition of the grid in abstract painting, and Sam Gilliam’s radical draped painting “Half Circle Red,” from which the canvas stretcher has been removed. “Fishes, Wishes and Star Apple Blue” demonstrates the innovative technique of the British painter Frank Bowling. There are also important groups of work by Ed Clark and Al Loving that showcase the artists’ fascination with formal experiment.

Works on paper constitute much of the Ollie collection and the exhibition. Robert Blackburn’s iconic lithograph “Faux Pas” from 1960 places him squarely at the origin of post war printmaking in America. The numerous drawings and collages in the Ollie collection represent multiple generations of black abstract artists ranging from Norman Lewis and Herbert Gentry, whose careers began in the mid-20th century; to Gilliam and Clark, who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s; and Whitney and James Little, who are arguably at the height of their careers today.

“The Shape of Abstraction” is curated by Gretchen L. Wagner, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow for Prints, Drawings and Photographs; and Alexis Assam, the 2018–19 Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Fellow. The exhibition and related programs are supported by a grant from the Trio Foundation of St. Louis.

CONTACT: Matthew Hathaway, 314.655.5493,


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