Common Ground: Discovering Community in 150 Years of Art, Selections from the Collection of Julia J. Norrell
Common Ground brings together 187 works of art from the holdings of Washington, D.C.-based collector Julia (Judy) Norrell. Encompassing 19th and 20th-century photography, painting, sculpture, and works on paper, the exhibition celebrates the universal human experience of struggle, transcendence, and salvation, illustrating the essential common thread that unites people across all cultures who seek to rise above the problems imposed by politics, race, and religion.
Writing about her childhood in Monticello, Arkansas, Judy Norrell remembers, “I think I was motivated by what I viewed as a dire limitation on my own freedom. Why could I not drink out of the same fountain as my playmate? Why was my God not my friend’s God? …I was one of those southerners who loved the South but hated the irrationality, hated the cruelty, hated the ignorance disguised by arrogance…”
The daughter of two Congressional representatives from Arkansas, Judy Norrell grew up in Monticello and in Washington, D.C. She attended Holton Arms, Ohio Wesleyan University, and in 1957, before beginning her law studies at George Washington University, accepted a Fulbright Fellowship to study philosophy at the University of Madras in India. It was during this watershed year that Judy first came to appreciate how a culture “so vastly different than mine [could yet be] like my own”. She began to understand how the beauty and suffering she witnessed in India were similar to the paradoxical contradictions she experienced in the American South. For example, the Walker Evans’ photographs of Alabama during the Great Depression are images that testify to the beauty of the spirit and its ability to transcend poverty, something that Norrell also remembers from her experience of India.
Through her art collection, Norrell has continued to explore this common ground across diverse cultures. From an early focus on books and folk art from the American South, her holdings have expanded to encompass almost 1,500 works by artists from throughout the United States and abroad. Today, Norrell’s collection combines folk art with photography and contemporary painting, sculpture, and assemblage works, embracing a wide range of styles, from the highly personal pieces of self-taught artists to the complicated allegories of sophisticated theorists.
The exhibition will be structured into five key sections guided by key themes: time, past and present; memory and tribute; community; hope and belief; and a sense of place.
Time, Past and Present
Addressing key historical events and political struggles in the United States and abroad, as well as how photography pictures the passage of time, this section will feature signature pieces by George Barnard, Roy De Carava, Lewis Hine, Sally Mann, Carl Moon, Marion post Wolcott, Addison Scurlock, Shomei Tomatsu,James VanDerZee, and Roman Vishniac, among others.
Memory and Tribute
Devoted to works about family, dreams, memoirs, and personal narratives, this section will include works by Shimon Attie, Radcliffe Bailey, David Driskell, Clementine Hunter, Jacob Lawrence, Whitfield Lovell, Adi Ness, Fred Wilson,and Jeffrey Wolin.
Delving into the rich territory of places, people, kinship, and race this section will incorporate a highly diverse selection of works by Eldridge Bagley, Beverly Buchanan, William Christenberry, William Eggleston, Walker Evans, Debbie Flemming-Caffrey, Jonathan Green, Willie Little, Deborah Luster, Danny Lyon,and Eudora Welty.
Hope and Belief
Universal concepts of belief, faith, and loss will be addressed in this section, which will concentrate on works by Brassai, Robert Frank, Laura Gilpin, Jim Goldberg, Kenro Izu, Lewis Koch, Mark Power, Dana Salvo, Addison Scurlock,and Fazel Sheikh.
A Sense of Place
Exploring land, nature, and people’s relationship to the environment, this section will highlight major pieces by Ansel Adams, Aubrey Bodine, RussellLee, Timothy O’Sullivan, Richard Misrach, and Mark Steinmentz.
Co-organized by the Corcoran’s Chief Curator Jacquelyn Days Serwer and Senior Curator of Photography and Media Arts Philip Brookman, Common Ground will introduce museum visitors to works of art in different media from a wide range of cultural traditions. Contemporary art finds a voice in works by Shimon Attie, Beverly Buchanan, William Christenberry, Whitfield Lovell, Sally Mann, young Israeli photographer Adi Ness, Carrie Mae Weems, and Fred Wilson. The painters, sculptors, printmakers, and photographers of earlier generations are represented by important works, including examples by Clyde Connell, Roy De Carava, WalkerEvans, Howard Finster, Jacob Lawrence, Ben Shahn, and Doris Ulmann.
Common Ground: Discovering Community in 150 Years of Art, Selections from the Collection of Julia J. Norrell is organized by the CorcoranGallery of Art and supported by The President’s Exhibition Fund.