Explorations of Self:

Black Portraiture from the Cochran Collection

September 21, 2020 – March 26, 2021


Please note that due to WFU COVID policies, only WFU students, faculty and staff will be able to access the campus and the Hanes Art Gallery. Appointments are available for off campus visitors with 48 hours notice.

Please email Katie Wolf (wolfke@wfu.edu) for more information. 

Since Hanes Gallery’s COVID closure in March, WFU Galleries and Collections staff have been, like everyone else, trying to adjust to COVID’s shifting exigencies, and to continually readjust our adjustments! Into this historic moment of pandemic, protest and economic crises, Hanes Gallery strides with an exhibition centered on the collection of Wes and Missy Cohran of LaGrange, Georgia, for which planning was begun over a year ago. The Cochran’s story alone is a compelling one, but many works in their collection are part of a larger historical and artistic narrative, much of it not well known beyond specialists in the subjects of African American and Black art.

Alice Randall, author of the parody The Wind Done Gone, has said “a central significance of all Black art is that it increases the capacity of both the artist and the audience to restore self and to know self.” With elegant concision, Randall‘s words identify a fundamental impetus for the exhibition Explorations of Self: Black Portraiture from the Cochran Collection, which will open in WFU’s Hanes Art Gallery on September 21st. The exhibition draws from the Cochran’s important collection of modern and contemporary works on paper by American artists, many of them household names, about half of them artists of color. Explorations of Self presents the work of Emma Amos, Lorna Simpson, Willie Cole, Jack Whitten, Adrian Piper, Alma Thomas, Beverly Buchanan, Juan Logan, Howardena Pindell, Jim Alexander, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, Camille Billops, Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, among others, of whom nearly half are women.

The exhibition was curated by sixteen WFU students with the guidance of art history Professor John Curley in the spring of 2020. The class researched the collection and its artists, as well as the larger history and condition of artists of color and their work, to create a thematic vessel for the exhibition. This student-driven approach lined up well with the Cochran’s collecting mission. For many years, Wes and Missy (he is a retired stonemason; she, a retired teacher) have shown the work in their own gallery and travelled thematic groups of their holdings, often to venues in smaller communities with student populations. Exposure to students and scholars, in addition to a more general public, is central to their concept of the collection.

With the sudden imposition of remote instruction in the spring, Prof. Curley’s students conversed with the Cochrans online rather than visiting them as planned, and worked with WFU’s Galleries and Collections unit to begin organizing the actual exhibition and its programming.

The exhibition will run for almost the entire duration of the COVID-adjusted academic year. Planned programming will include artist talks, group discussions, and community outreach. Details will be announced as they are finalized.

Organization: The exhibition was curated by WFU students with the guidance of art history Professor John Curley in the spring of 2020.

We give special thanks to our student curators, Livi Andreini, Riley Blair, Abigail Bodner, Regine Boykin, Sarah Comegno, Eliza Dermott, Jackie Dischner, Jazmyn Green, Lynn Huffard, Bingqing Li, Neely Metz, Dylan Solomon, and Olivia Starr.