Thornton Dial (1928-2016)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more PROPERTY FROM THE PERSONAL COLLECTION OF JANE FONDA
Thornton Dial (1928-2016)

Trophies (Doll Factory)

Thornton Dial (1928-2016)
Trophies (Doll Factory)
initialled 'TD' (lower left); titled and dated 'TROPHIES (The Doll Factory) 1999' (on the reverse)
Barbie dolls, stuffed animals, plastic toys, cloth, tin, wood, rope carpet, Splash Zone compound, oil, enamel and spray paint on canvas
75 x 123 x 18in. (190.5 x 312.4 x 45.7cm.)
Executed in 1999
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner.
Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Thornton Dial in the 21st Century, 2005-2006 (illustrated in colour, pp.142-143).
Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial, 2011-2013, pl. 5 (detail illustrated in colour, pp. 49, 96-97; illustrated in colour, pp. 94-95). This exhibition later travelled to New Orleans, New Orleans Museum of Art; Charlotte, Mint Museum and Atlanta, High Museum of Art.
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Sale room notice
Please note that this work was executed in 1999, and not as printed in the catalogue.
Please note that this work is initialled 'TD' (lower left) and titled and dated 'TROPHIES (The Doll Factory) 1999' (on the reverse).

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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord

Lot Essay

From the collection of the Oscar-winning actress Jane Fonda – a long-time collector and supporter of the artist – Trophies (Doll Factory) (2000) is an extraordinary assemblage by Thornton Dial. Dozens of dolls of different sizes burst forth from the richly textural work, whose turbulent surface is held together by a bold, expressive chromatic structure worthy of Jackson Pollock: yellow, blue, black, white and gleaming gold loop and swirl through the composition. At once a painterly and sculptural presence, the densely layered work is bricolaged from dolls, stuffed animals, plastic toys, cloth, tin, wood, rope carpet, epoxy compound, oil, enamel, and spray paint 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 back yard 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. Trophies (Doll Factory) was included in Dial’s triumphant touring retrospective organised by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial, in 2011-2013.

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,

Trophies (Doll Factory) 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 chronicles the exploitation of and power within women, and Dial employs dark humour in his modification and incorporation of Barbie dolls to relay this loaded messaging. This subject attracted Jane Fonda to the work, who was reminded of Barbarella, whose intrepid female hero she played in 1968. ‘It’s really about how women are trying to prove that they’re not just objects but that they’re strong,’ she said. The dolls – some embedded in the Bosch-like scape of coruscating colour, others, glinting in gold, seeming to march across its surface – enact Dial’s vision of the suffering of the women in his life, and his respect for their strength and importance. ‘I was raised by women’, Dial said. ‘It did a whole lot for me. Coming up in the world that way make me realise what struggle they have … Women be in just about everything I have made, in one way or another way … women are the creation of the world, at the creation of all works. If it wasn’t for women it wouldn’t be none of us here, and without them we couldn’t make it through the struggle’ (T. Dial, quoted in ibid.).

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