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Selecting the best of New York City’s arts scene

One of the best quotes of all time is Louis Pasteur’s statement, “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.” Of course, he was talking about scientific research, but the idea works just as well for anyone interested in art. In order to know something about art, you must spend a lot of time looking, reading, thinking, and talking to others about it. It’s not a fast process, but when you start to make connections between different ideas, genres, backgrounds, or time periods, the discoveries might just rewrite the history books.

That’s the case with innovators like William Arnett. He spent decades studying and writing about art history, mostly European in content, before he came across the work of African American southern artists. These self-taught painters, sculptors, and artisans had generally been ignored by the mainstream art world or relegated to the less respected classification of folk art. Arnett saw something more: that their color and design sense, along with a brilliantly creative outlook were the result of endlessly working out their ideas, making the images equal to any art available in the great museums of the world. His writing, promoting, and eventually establishing the Souls Grown Deep Foundation has given these artists the attention and respect they deserve and changed the way American art history is taught. At Marlborough Gallery, A Different Mountain: Selected Works from The Arnett Collection displays over 75 works from Arnett’s own holdings, along with scholarly documentation and background provided by his sons. Including pieces from trained and self-taught artists (Hawkins Bolden, Thornton Dial, Mary T. Smith, to name a few), along with a selection of African-American quilts, the show gives visitors a sense of the innovation and variety of art created in the southern US.

Another way chance favored a prepared mind can be seen in the Abby Weed Grey Collection and by extension, the Grey Art Gallery at NYU. Using money inherited from her husband, Mrs. Grey sought to build an art collection that reflected contemporary issues of the 1960s and 70s facing non-Western countries and their people. Through study, travel, and conversation with everyone from scholars to artists, she assembled works and archival materials reflecting the modern art scene of Iran, Turkey, and India. She also organized shows, sponsored cultural exchanges between artists and others, and established the Grey Art Gallery at NYU as a gallery and international meeting ground for the arts. The current exhibit, Modernisms: Iranian, Turkish, and Indian Highlights from NYU’s Abby Weed Grey Collection, is another example of Mrs. Grey’s mandate of dialogue through art, continuing the chain of knowledge begun over 40 years ago. These works will surprise and impress anyone unfamiliar with these countries’ artists, while also reminding visitors that national identity is and always will be a continual work in progress.