We Speak of Exchange: Immigrant and Expatriate Artists in the Johnson Collection

TJC Gallery, Spartanburg, South Carolina
September 15, 2021 – December 10, 2021

This exhibition presents the work of more than twenty artists from the Johnson Collection––all first-generation immigrants and expatriates––who have made significant, but in many cases under-recognized, contributions to the art landscape of the American South. We Speak of Exchange is designed to expand the visibility of their influential roles in the development of visual arts and transnational dialogues in the region and beyond. The selection of art encompasses a diversity of mediums, from collages and drawings, to paintings, prints, and sculptures, and spans a multiplicity of regional and global population movements during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Many of the artists came to the United States as refugees in search of safe haven, and others arrived in pursuit of better opportunities. A number of those fleeing Nazi Germany beginning in the 1930s––among them renowned modernists Josef and Anni Albers––sought refuge at Black Mountain College, a small but pioneering school near Asheville, North Carolina. During the Great Depression, BMC became an improbable site of intellectual exchange between artists from rural and urban areas in the United States and immigrants from more than twenty countries, representing a wholly unique and pivotal moment in American art history. Similarly, the expatriates in this exhibition, many in quest for liberation from racial oppression, sought opportunity outside of the United States and received critical acclaim for their work. Featuring works by Anni Albers, Josef Albers, Leo Amino, Ilya Bolotowsky, Elizabeth Catlett, Jean Charlot, Beauford Delaney, Lyonel Feininger, William Frerichs, Carl Holty, Emil Holzhauer, Gwendolyn Knight, Ingeborg Lauterstein, Edith London, Johannes Oertel, Mavis Pusey, Xanti Schawinsky, Jack Tworkov, Jean Varda, Esteban Vicente, Erna Weill, Hale Woodruff, and Edmund Yaghjian, this exhibition celebrates artists who, in crossing geographic and disciplinary borders, transformed art and culture in the Southeast. Their stories and legacies are as singular as their artistic visions, which pushed boundaries during their lifetimes.

In accord with the Johnson family’s strong commitment to education, the Johnson Collection currently offers a competitive, paid fellowship every summer. Open to enrolled students pursuing a graduate degree in art history, this eight-week placement offers the selected student the opportunity to advance research and curatorial skills through developing, writing, and installing an exhibition at TJC Gallery.

A curator's talk with summer graduate fellow Mary Kathryn Alexander (Georgetown University) is scheduled for Thursday, September 16 at 6:15pm during Spartanburg ArtWalk. The event is free and open to the public.