When Adrienne Childs set about putting together the exhibit ''Tradition Redefined: The Larry and Brenda Thompson Collection of African American Art,'' she had no idea what a treasure trove she was opening. Larry and Brenda Thompson — he’s a former deputy Attorney General of the United States, and she’s a clinical psychologist — began collecting works by African-American artists soon after their marriage in 1970. In the last 42 years, they collected more than 600 pieces. Childs selected some 72 paintings, sculptures and mixed-media works for the exhibit. Originally organized for The David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland in 2009, ''Tradition Redefined'' is now on display at Rice Gallery as part of a five-year tour thanks to a bit of serendipity — the Thompsons’ son attended Rice University.
''This is the first exhibition based solely on their collection,'' says Childs, currently a Fellow of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for the Study of African and African American Research at Harvard University. ''There are a lot of people out there who collect art by African Americans, but [the Thompsons] have taken it to another level. They’ve been very strategic about what they’ve collected. They’ve been careful to go beyond the commercial. They’re looking at artists that have a critical and historical place in the story of African-American art.''
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