Thornton Dial: Image of the Tiger was the first major solo museum exhibition of the 65-year-old African American painter. Organized by guest curator, Thomas McEvilley, this exhibition was presented at both The New Museum and the American Folk Art Museum. It included approximately twenty large paintings at each venue, along with works on paper from 1988-1993.
The exhibition was not divided chronologically; both earlier and more recent painting were shown at both institutions. Instead, the Museum of American Folk Art presented works with prominent narrative elements ranging from Dial ‘s personal mythology to historical paintings which address the “Black Odyssey”—the path from Africa to slavery to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond. The works presented at The New Museum were less narrative, addressing more formal and aesthetic concerns.
“As [he] continues his artistic journey, following his own agenda, it will be increasingly difficult to classify him simply as 'folk,’ or ‘naive,’ or ‘outside,’ and thus Dial will forcefully challenge the hierarchical language that we bring to the discussion of various genres of art. A quiet revolution may indeed be in process, a revolution that may very well effect a reexamination and reconsideration of the centrality of the ‘outsider’ experience to mainstream art experience, namely the black experience to that of the American experience. —Lowery Stokes Sims, exhibition brochure