Gift of art for Overtown

LIVING COLOR: Young’s murals depict urban life.
LIVING COLOR: Young’s murals depict urban life.

Miami artist Purvis Young was an Overtown original — a self-taught artist whose paintings depicted scenes from African-American and urban life, largely in his poor downtown neighborhood.

Young died at 67 in 2010, after years of financial woes, health problems and disputes with benefactors.

Until now, one of the biggest collections of Mr. Young’s art was held by the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach — a world away from the neighborhood where he created hundreds of his works.

Recently, the Bass Museum announced that it is giving the bulk of its Young collection — nearly 400 pieces likely worth millions — to the Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida in Overtown.

Thanks to the institution’s generosity, a large portion of the prolific Mr. Young’s artwork will now be on display in the community that inspired him.

Silvia Karman Cubiñá, executive director and chief curator at the Bass, recognized the artworks belonged at the Black Archives, where they had recently been on display as part of A Man Among the People: A Purvis Young Homecoming Exhibition.

“The Black Archives’ beautiful new facility in Overtown has the space for the works of art to be on permanent view, guaranteeing that generations to come will be able to learn from this important artist and his place within the context of the community that inspired his work,” she said.

Being able to showcase such an extensive collection of one of the most storied local artists will no doubt be a boon for Overtown and the Black Archives and heighten their standing as a destination for visitors and locals who want to learn about the Liberty City native, whose artistic talent awakened in the mid-1960s after spending time in jail. He became famous in the early 1970s for creating murals and collages that portrayed life as he saw it.

By painting on anything he could find while living on the streets, the artist attained international fame for colorful murals and conceptualizing mixed-media expressionist works, often using objects — abandoned doors, cardboard, scraps of wood — left on Overtown’s streets.

Mr. Young’s work is well-represented in several of Miami’s major private collections and in museums across the country. His work is included in collections at the Smithsonian Institution, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Now, it will also be on display in the resilient neighborhood that inspired him. “What better place than that?” said Karman Cubiñá.