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ADJUSTING THE APERTURE: Spelman Museum Director Liz Andrews Widens the Lens on the Arts, Social Justice and Politics

August 2022

Music was always playing in the Denver childhood home of Liz Andrews, Ph.D., and excursions to see the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble and the Denver Art Museum were commonplace. However, it was justice and civil rights meld into music, dance and all things art that would ultimately lead Andrews to her current position at Spelman College as the executive director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art.

Liz Andrews, Ph.D.

The daughter of a civil rights attorney and a legal secretary, Andrews figured she might pursue law. Her father spurned the idea. Thus, the juxtaposition of social justice and art led Andrews’ college studies and career path.

“I felt like art was a creative way to make people think differently,” said Andrews, who was named to the Spelman position July 2021, the 25th anniversary of the Museum. This too place after the Museum’s long-time director, Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, C’93, was chosen to head the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida.

“There is always a soundtrack to movements and the visual arts, so I am a singer and performance artist,” Andrews explained.


'Silver Linings' Exhibition Celebrates Some of the Greatest Artists in the 21st Century

“Silver Linings: Celebrating the Spelman Art Collection” highlights the works of masters, pioneers and trailblazers who anchor this newest exhibition of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art that was on view until June 30, 2022. Featuring 40 works from approximately 450 pieces in the permanent collection, the exhibition includes works from some of the greatest artists in the 21st century.

Silver Linings museum exhibition image 1

Some of the works include sculptures by Nancy Elizabeth Prophet and Beverly Buchanan, paintings by Nellie Mae Rowe and Henry Ossawa Tanner, drawings by Charles White, photographs by Myra Greene and Lorna Simpson, and collage/mixed media work by Romare Bearden. Andrews, Ph.D., can’t stop raving about the Spelman art collection in general, which the College had the foresight to begin in 1899. But she describes “Silver Linings” as “celebrating the work that has been put in by Spelman College to uplift artists even before there was a museum” and as having a wide appeal. 

“[It’s] art history 101 in a lot of ways,” she said. “We’ve got photography, sculpture, painting and mixed media. There are several different kinds of art you’ll see here. The oldest work in the show is by Henry Ossawa Tanner that is an incredible piece. These are all artists you hear about, and you read about and they’re here in this collection.” 

A new work by Carrie Mae Weems that arrived from New York in time for the exhibition greets visitors at the entrance. Situated directly across from the title wall, Weems’ work sets the stage for the exhibition and prepares patrons to receive the bounty of rich visuals to come. According to Andrews, a piece called “Color: Real and Imagined,” created in 2014, recently arrived, as well as four works by Lina Iris Viktor. Viktor is a British-Liberian painter whose work Andrews is proud to have as part of the collection.

Silver Linings museum exhibition image 2

The New York Times called Viktor’s paintings “queenly self-portraits with a futuristic edge.” Acknowledging the museum’s mission revolves around women artists of the African diaspora, Andrews said the curatorial process also included “thinking about what students would want to see right now.”

“So, for example, there’s a work by Renee Cox from 1994 called ‘Hottentot Venus’ that is a self-portrait, remixed representation of Sarah Baartman,” she said. Baartman was a South African Black woman who was showcased and exploited because of her physical appearance. Cox’s self-portrait is a strong statement about the racism that ravaged Baartman’s existence. Andrews believes “Silver Linings” is a presentation of some of the strongest works of the 20th and 21st century masters. 

“Within the galleries, there are lots of wonderful Black women and men artists — where a quilt from Faith Ringgold sits beautifully in conversation with the Elizabeth Catlett [sculpture], or the Bearden (collage) in the gallery right next door,” she said.

As a teaching museum, it was important to showcase the works of Spelman faculty like Myra Greene, head of the Art and Visual Culture Department. “I think one of the most powerful moments in the show is the viewing room that is entirely dedicated to Greene’s ambrotypes,” said Andrews. “With this, I want to show that you can exhibit old photography in safe ways that are beautiful.”

By Renita Mathis, Director of Special Projects and Strategic Initiatives

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