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Dia Art Foundation and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Announce Co-Acquisition of a Major Work by Sam Gilliam


NEW YORK / HOUSTON—March 15, 2021—Dia Art Foundation and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, today announced their co-acquisition of Double Merge (1968), a major early work by Sam Gilliam. The work is currently on view at Dia Beacon, New York, as part of a long-term display that opened in 2019. Double Merge will travel in 2022 to the MFAH, where it will also be on extended display.

This historic acquisition is composed from two large paintings from Gilliam’s Drape series and represents an unparalleled expression of the formal and conceptual concerns that define his oeuvre. Before going on view at Dia, these canvases had never before been shown together in public. Partnering on this acquisition will allow audiences in both New York and Texas to encounter this important work over extended periods of time at each institution.

“Sam Gilliam’s early experimentations with form and color have had a transformative impact on what we imagine painting and sculpture to be,” said Jessica Morgan, Dia’s Nathalie de Gunzburg director. “Having Gilliam’s work on view at Dia Beacon over the last two years, alongside focused displays of work by many of his artistic peers, has expanded our audience’s understanding of this period of art history. Bringing Double Merge, the centerpiece of this display, into Dia’s permanent collection represents the beginning of a rich and in-depth relationship with the artist, which will span exhibitions, public programs, and further scholarship on both Gilliam and this period overall. I am also delighted that this co-acquisition with the MFAH will bring this unique and important work to a wider audience.”

“Over the last 50 years, Gilliam has established himself at the forefront of American abstraction. His groundbreaking investigations blur the boundaries between artistic disciplines, emphasizing the process, materiality, and dimensionality of painting and its display. We are delighted to partner with Dia Art Foundation in bringing this landmark acquisition into both of our collections,” said Gary Tinterow, director, the Margaret Alkek Williams chair, MFAH. “While we are fortunate to already own another work from Gilliam’s Drape series, the monumental scale and complementary nature of Double Merge’s two segments allows our museum to represent the artist at the height of his first signature achievement.”

Double Merge consists of two single Drapes, both individually titled Carousel II (1968), which were combined into a unique installation in 2019. Gilliam’s approach to painting these works stems from “spinning canvas in the studio and using a Kodak carousel with slides to shoot against it.” This immersive, site-responsive installation recalls the artist’s room-sized, situational works of the late 1960s and early 1970s, in which unstretched, painted canvases were arranged to span an existing space. Conceived specifically for Dia Beacon in an exhibition organized by Courtney J. Martin and composed on-site, Double Merge responds to the location’s industrial architecture.

This acquisition reflects Dia’s ongoing initiative to expand its holdings to include a greater breadth of artists who are formally and conceptually in dialogue with those already in the collection, which is focused particularly on artists who were working in the 1960s and 1970s. Installed alongside Dia’s permanent collection, Double Merge situates Gilliam’s practice in conversation with that of his Minimal and Postminimal peers. These artists include Robert Morris, Robert Ryman, and Anne Truitt, who also considered painting in an expanded form.

Similarly, Double Merge is a significant addition to the MFAH permanent collection, joining Gilliam’s Arc II (1970) from his Drape series. Complementing Houston’s historically strong representation of African American artists, the MFAH has built a representative collection of nationally recognized artists including Mark Bradford, Jacob Lawrence, Glenn Ligon, Julie Mehretu, and Betye Saar, among many others. The addition of Gilliam’s Double Merge enhances the collection while providing an essential tie to larger currents in American painting in the 1960s. The artist uniquely bridged Color Field painting—represented in depth in the MFAH collection by his peers including Helen Frankenthaler and Frank Stella—with a radical understanding of how painting can engage the built environment.

About the Artist
Sam Gilliam was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1933. He grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where he attended the University of Louisville and gained a BA in 1955 and an MFA in 1961. After moving in 1962 to Washington, DC, he became involved with the Washington Color School. In the 1960s he began exhibiting abstract paintings without a stretcher, suspended from the gallery wall or ceiling. Gilliam has been the subject of many exhibitions at venues including the Kunstmuseum Basel in Switzerland (2018); Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC (2005); J. B. Speed Memorial Museum in Louisville (1996); and Studio Museum in Harlem (1982) and Museum of Modern Art (1971), both in New York. He has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including the United States State Department Medal of Arts (2015), National Endowment for the Arts Individual Grant (1989 and 1967), and John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1971). Gilliam lives in Washington, DC. 

About the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Established in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the 10 largest art museums in the United States, with an encyclopedic collection of nearly 70,000 works dating from antiquity to the present. The Susan and Fayez S. Sarofim main campus comprises the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, designed by Steven Holl Architects and opened in 2020; the Audrey Jones Beck Building, designed by Rafael Moneo and opened in 2000; the Caroline Wiess Law Building, originally designed by William Ward Watkin, with extensions by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe completed in 1958 and 1974; the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen sculpture garden, designed by Isamu Noguchi and opened in 1986; the Glassell School of Art, designed by Steven Holl Architects and opened in 2018; and the Brown Foundation, Inc. Plaza, designed by Deborah Nevins & Associates and opened in 2018. Additional spaces include a repertory cinema, two libraries, public archives, and facilities for conservation and storage. Nearby, two house museums—Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens and Rienzi—present American and European decorative arts. The MFAH is also home to the International Center for the Arts of the Americas, a leading research institute for 20th-century Latin American and Latino art. 

About Dia Art Foundation 
Taking its name from the Greek word meaning “through,” Dia was established in 1974 with the mission to serve as a conduit for artists to realize ambitious new projects, unmediated by overt interpretation and uncurbed by the limitations of more-traditional museums and galleries. Dia’s programming fosters contemplative and sustained consideration of a single artist’s body of work, and its collection is distinguished by the deep and longstanding relationships that the nonprofit has cultivated with artists whose work came to prominence particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. In addition to Dia Beacon, Dia Bridgehampton, and Dia Chelsea, Dia maintains and operates a constellation of commissions, long-term installations, and site-specific projects, notably focused on Land art, nationally and internationally.

Media Contacts
Katie Jernigan | The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
kjernigan@mfah.org | 713.639.7516

Hannah Gompertz | Dia Art Foundation
hgompertz@diaart.org | 212.293.5598