A recent visit to the Souls Grown Deep/Bill Arnett art warehouse in Atlanta was even more mind boggling than reports had led me to expect. The space was bigger and the profusion of work more out of control. A modest selection was more or less set out for easy viewing, but that represented only a fraction of the collection. There were boxes and racks and cases and cartons of work spread around two massive rooms, corrals of sculpture, stacks of drawings, piles of books — just what you’d expect from a collecting mission that has outrun any efforts to organize it.
As one member of our group put it, the accumulation can’t be too vast — the bigger it is the more evidence it supplies for the argument that amounts to Arnett’s life work. As Arnett explained it: There is a moment in African-American art that is just as creative and important as the jazz and blues that have become so widely accepted as essential parts of American culture. He wants Black art to be embraced the same way as Black music. And indeed, cultural meanings, powerfully expressed, hide around every corner of the warehouse.
There is of course lots to be said about Bill Arnett the collector and the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, which now owns a slice of the art, and about the controversies that have been associated with this project. Whatever you think about Arnett and his collection, however, the experience of seeing the work in this setting was awesome in and of itself. You can’t help but come away hoping that the art finds a good home over time, and that Arnett is successful in his life’s work of demonstrating that this art is of immense value and reflects the creative brilliance of an African-American culture that indeed runs deep.
More information on the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.