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Artist Mildred Thompson Headlines Fall Exhibition at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art Share a Spelman College Press Release

For Immediate Release
Jazmyn Burton

Assistant Director of News & Communications 
Spelman College
Twitter: @SpelmanMedia

Wyatt Phillips
Twitter: @SpelmanMuseum

ATLANTA (September 4, 2019)  -  The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art will launch its 2019-2020 exhibition season with the Atlanta premiere of "Mildred Thompson: The Atlanta Years, 1986 – 2003" on view Wednesday, Sept. 11 through Saturday, Dec. 7.Screen Shot 2019-09-04 at 3.00.17 PM

This original exhibition, curated by Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Ph.D., C’93, director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, and Melissa Messina, curator of the Mildred Thompson Estate, is the artist’s first large-scale, interdisciplinary solo exhibition in the city.

American abstract artist Mildred Thompson (b. Jacksonville, FL, 1936; d. Atlanta, GA, 2003) spent much of her early career in Germany and France in response to the racial and gender discrimination she faced in the United States. In 1986 she accepted an invitation to be an artist-in-residence at Spelman College. She lived in Atlanta for the remainder of her life where her practice of abstraction flourished. This period marks a particularly prolific time in the artist’s career during which she was a professor at several area colleges, associate editor of Art Papers magazine, and a practicing visual artist, writer, and musician.
Screen Shot 2019-09-04 at 2.52.25 PM
This exhibition honors Thompson’s life-long commitment to creating a universally resonant abstract visual language. The over 30 paintings, drawings, and prints on view demonstrate her a affinity for exploring the rhythms and patterns of science and music and interpreting the workings of the cosmos and other natural phenomena. This selection of works represents the scale, complexity, dynamism, and energy of Thompson’s unique visual vocabulary, as well as her ability to translate these concepts across media.

Throughout her artistic career, Mildred Thompson sought to find meaning in the world through abstraction. Thompson, an artist committed to affirming humankind’s common bond to the systems of the universe, explored space, sound, and other elements that were not visible to the naked eye through shapes, color, lines, forms, and patterns. Figuration and representation were—and arguably still are—the primary modes of expression for African American artists. Thompson was often excluded from exhibitions and, as a result, did not receive critical attention during her lifetime. Thompson, along with other Black abstract practitioners of her generation, is now receiving long-overdue recognition.

“Thompson, an expansive thinker and a force of nature who knew no boundaries, made an indelible imprint on Atlanta,” Dr. Brownlee stated. “The timely opportunity to present her work at Spelman—the institution that invited her to establish a relationship with the city—and examine the breadth of her work and the evolution of her career is particularly rewarding.”

Messina stated, “As the accomplishments of Black female abstract artists are being revitalized today, so too is the late Mildred Thompson’s work prompting renewed appreciation. We are very pleased to be working with Dr. Brownlee and Spelman College to bring Thompson’s work to a broader public and to the Atlanta community.”

In homage to Thompson’s many influences and other creative contributions, the exhibition will also feature a selection of objects and ephemera from the artist’s papers on loan from Emory University and the Estate’s collection, including books, photographs, music and writings.

The Museum’s 2019 – 2020 exhibition season is made possible by the Wish Foundation and the LUBO Fund. Additional support provided by the Massey Charitable Trust.

For more information, visit or @spelmanmuseum on Instagram and Twitter.


Opening Program
Mildred Thompson Remembered
Wednesday, Sept. 11
6:30 p.m
Join the Museum for a conversation with exhibition curators Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Ph.D., director, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Melissa Messina, curator of the Mildred Thompson Estate, and Donna Jackson, Thompson’s partner of 17 years and executor of the Thompson Estate. Invited comments from artists, friends, and colleagues, including Wes Cochran, Kerry Davis, and Karen Comer Lowe, will enliven the conversation. A reception follows.

Register now at
For more information about the Museum see

Yoga in the Museum
ondays at noon
Sept.16 – Dec. 2
Enjoy a yoga class surrounded by works of art and engage in a practice led by African American certified yoga instructors that emphasizes balance, focus, and strength. Yoga in the Museum is open to all with mats and props available on a first come, first served basis.

Artist Guides
Wednesday, Sept. 18
6:30 p.m.
Artist Guides invite Black women cultural producers to lead public tours of the Museum’s current exhibition. Join us for an engaging walkthrough of Mildred Thompson: The Atlanta Years, 1986 – 2003 with celebrated artist and scholar Tina Dunkley.

Community Day
Saturday, Oct. 5
12 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Created for artists and art enthusiasts of all ages, join us for an afternoon of art-making activities, guided tours, and more.
Community Day is free, but registration is strongly encouraged. Please contact us at 404.270.5607,, or follow @spelmanmuseum on Twitter for more information.

Homecoming Day Party
Friday, Oct. 25
3 – 5 p.m.
Celebrate homecoming and join alumni from the Atlanta University Center in the Museum for this annual gathering. Enjoy interactive tours of Mildred Thompson: The Atlanta Years, 1986 – 2003, music, food, and so much more.
This program is organized in collaboration with the Spelman College Office of Alumnae Affairs.

When, Where, and How We Enter: Honoring the Legacies of Black Women Abstract Painters
Thursday, Nov. 7
6:30 p.m.
Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby, Ed.D., Academic Center Auditorium
Join the Museum for a landmark conversation with women curators who are leading the charge to increase the visibility of Black women abstract artists. Panelists include Valerie Cassel Oliver, Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Lauren Haynes, Curator of Contemporary Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Melissa Messina, Curator of the Mildred Thompson Estate, and Hallie Ringle, Curator of Contemporary Art, Birmingham Museum of Art. Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Ph.D., Director, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art will moderate the conversation.

Surrender at Fort Negress: A Repossession Performance
Sunday, Dec. 1
3 p.m.
In observance of Day With(out) Art*, Spelman College associate professor of Dance Performance & Choreography, T. Lang will explore the process through which individuals fundamentally shift how they conceptualize, strategize around, and tactically address struggles related to complex inequalities that affect their everyday lives. Through movement, and process-based community research with alumnae at Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University, Surrender at Fort Negress physically unpacks the questions of physical, social, economic, and political survival in moments of crisis and extreme distress.

About Spelman College Museum of Fine Art 
The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, which was established in 1996, inspires and enriches the Spelman College community and the general public primarily through art by women of the African Diaspora. In “Six Reasons to Love Atlanta,” praised the Museum for its “fantastically curated exhibitions.” As the Museum’s 25th anniversary approaches in 2021, it is even more focused on its priorities: continuing its legacy of presenting thought-provoking exhibitions such as Amy Sherald (organized by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 2019), PRESENCE: Meditations on the Spelman College Collection (2019), Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness (organized by Autograph London and curated by ReneĢe Mussai, 2018), and Deborah Roberts: The Evolution of Mimi (2018) that have garnered critical and popular attention; organizing dynamic and empowering programs; and expanding its relevant collection.

The Museum’s milestones include being selected as the first institution from the United States that jointly, along with the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, represented the United States at the 2012 Havana Biennial in Havana, Cuba. In 2015, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Museum, in collaboration with the Department of Art & Visual Culture, launched a Curatorial Studies Program, a pilot initiative to prepare and develop the next generation of curators. With enthusiastic support from the Walton Family Foundation, this program has expanded and in 2018, Spelman College established the Atlanta University Center for the Study of Art History & Curatorial Studies, currently supported by the Alice L. Walton Foundation. For more information about the Museum, visit

About Spelman College
Founded in 1881, Spelman College is a leading liberal arts college widely recognized as the global leader in the education of women of African descent. Located in Atlanta, the College’s picturesque campus is home to 2,100 students. Spelman is the country's leading producer of Black women who complete Ph.D.s in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The College’s status is confirmed by U.S. News and World Report, which ranked Spelman No. 51 among all liberal arts colleges and No. 1 among historically Black colleges and universities. The Wall Street Journal ranked the College No. 3, nationally, in terms of student satisfaction. Outstanding alumnae include Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, Starbucks Group President and COO Rosalind Brewer, former Acting Surgeon General and Spelman’s first alumna president Audrey Forbes Manley, global bioinformatics geneticist Janina Jeff and authors Pearl Cleage and Tayari Jones. For more information, visit


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