THORNTON DIAL (1928-2016)
THORNTON DIAL (1928-2016)
THORNTON DIAL (1928-2016)
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THORNTON DIAL (1928-2016)
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Please note lots marked with a square will be move… Read more Things Grow in the United States: Works from the Collection of Jane Fonda
THORNTON DIAL (1928-2016)


THORNTON DIAL (1928-2016)
mixed media including wire, fabric and Splash Zone compound on canvas
76 x 65 in.
Executed in 1991.
Arnett Artists, Atlanta (acquired directly from the artist)
Acquired from the above in early 2000s
Special notice

Please note lots marked with a square will be moved to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS in Red Hook, Brooklyn) on the last day of the sale. Lots are not available for collection at Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services until after the third business day following the sale. All lots will be stored free of charge for 30 days from the auction date at Christie’s Rockefeller Center or Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS in Red Hook, Brooklyn). Operation hours for collection from either location are from 9.30 am to 5.00 pm, Monday-Friday. After 30 days from the auction date property may be moved at Christie’s discretion. Please contact Post-Sale Services to confirm the location of your property prior to collection. Lots may not be collected during the day of their move to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS in Red Hook, Brooklyn). Please consult the Lot Collection Notice for collection information.

Brought to you by

Cara Zimmerman
Cara Zimmerman Head of Americana and Outsider Art

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Lot Essay

From the collection of the Oscar-winning actress Jane Fonda – a long-time collector and supporter of the artist – this work is an extraordinary assemblage by Thornton Dial. A figure in blue plants and another in red are integrally involved in the richly textural work, whose turbulent surface is held together by a bold, expressive chromatic structure worthy of Jackson Pollock: blue, red, black, white and pops of yellow and orange loop and swirl through the composition. At once a painterly and sculptural presence, the densely layered work is collaged from a variety of found materials, including wire, fabric and Splash Zone compound on canvas. This churning materiality is typical of Dial’s practice. A self-taught artist born in rural Alabama, he started making art from repurposed objects in his backyard using the skills he had gained as a metalworker in the Pullman Standard boxcar factory, where he worked for three decades. In the late 1980s, he caught the attention of William Arnett, an Atlanta collector who sought to promote undiscovered African-American artists: a blossoming of ambition and opportunity followed. Dial’s works have since been acquired by institutions including New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.; the de Young Museum of Art, San Francisco; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, accessioned ten of his works in 2014.

Comparisons might be drawn between Dial’s work and the plate paintings of Julian Schnabel, Anselm Kiefer’s vast, sculptural history paintings, or indeed the ‘Combines’ of Robert Rauschenberg – a near-contemporary of Dial’s and a fellow Southerner, who may have in fact been inspired by the regional ‘yard-show’ assemblage tradition from which Dial’s work emerged. Dial, however, arrived at his sophisticated, inventive idiom by a path entirely his own. Creating art from the discarded items around him, he made work that was about, from and quite literally composed of his environment. ‘My art is the evidence of my freedom’, he said. ‘When I start any piece of art I can pick up anything I want to pick up. When I get ready for that, I already got my idea for it … It’s just like inventing something. It’s like patterns that you cut out to show you how to make something – a boxcar, or clothes. Everything got a pattern for it. The pattern for a piece of art is in your mind; it’s the idea for it. That’s the pattern’ (T. Dial, quoted in ‘Thornton Dial’, Souls Grown Deep Foundation,
Untitled displays an intelligence, nuance and Neo-Expressionist force common to Dial’s large-scale constructions, which often confront grand themes such as race relations, war and industry in America. The present work is reminiscent of Dial’s Mercedes-Benz Comes to Alabama and Outside the Coal Mine, both in composition, used materials and theme. The head of the figure in blue pants is a reoccurring element seen in both the noted works, which are a part of a series that Joanne Cubbs and Eugene W. Metcalf refer to as “False Promises / The Plight of the City”.

With thanks to The Fine Art Group for their collaboration on Things Grow in the United States: Works from the Collection of Jane Fonda.

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