Rubell Family Grants Purvis Young Collection to Morehouse College

By Catherine Fox The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Published on: 08/14/08 Purvis Young, one of the distinguished elders of self-taught art, will soon be a Morehouse man. The Miami-based Rubell Family Collection has given the college 109 of Young’s paintings. Worth an estimated $1 million, the gift will be hung in its entirety on the second floor of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel. It is the largest single gift of art Morehouse has received, and its display will be, it is said, the largest permanent installation of Young’s work in the world. Young, who found his calling in the 1960s after a stint in prison, has worked in a whirlwind of creativity ever since. Using a distinctive language of squiggly silhouettes and dense colorful compositions, he tells stories of struggle and joy seen through the prism of Overtown, his poverty-wracked community in downtown Miami. Seen as the community’s champion, the artist, who started out by affixing paintings to its abandoned buildings, was commissioned in 1986 to design a mural for a transit station in Overtown. Morehouse president Robert Michael Franklin is enthusiastic about the gift. “Morehouse’s mission is to train leaders with a social conscience,” he says. “Art is a way to convey those values. … Purvis Young has used his art as social commentary and a catalyst for justice.” Don and Mera Rubell, best known as voracious and astute collectors of international cutting-edge contemporary art, also champion important Miami artists. The Rubell Family Collection acquired the contents of Young’s studio in 2000, when his eviction threatened to leave his work on the street. The family’s goal to preserve and disseminate his legacy is a gargantuan effort. Given the artist’s prodigious output, it took eight months just to empty out the studio. Thus far, the staff has catalogued and conserved 3,000 paintings. Drawings are next. The Rubell Collection has begun distributing the paintings to interested institutions. The Morehouse gift is among its largest thus far, and one of the first to be made outside of Florida. Sheldon Anderson, president of Northern Trust Bank of Florida for Miami-Dade County, brought the two parties together. The company, a financial services provider, will underwrite the costs of transportation and the installation of the work. The display will be completed by the end of August, but the building is not open to the public. Plans are under way for providing access to the exhibit. Though most recipients of Young’s paintings have been museums, Rubell Family Collection director Mark Coetzee was quite taken with the idea of presenting Young’s work amid the portraits of notable African-Americans that fill the building. “I think it’s a wonderful context for Purvis to be with his peers,” Coetzee says. “He’s 65 now, and I thought it would be meaningful for him. In the end, the artist is my first responsibility.”


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