A museum’s collection is always in a state of change and transformation. New objects are regularly added to the permanent collection through gifts and purchases, and both donors and art dealers are key players in this process. This exhibition explores how the decades-long friendship of two individuals—the late New York-based African art dealer and artist Merton D. Simpson and the collector, physicist, and Fowler Museum patron Jay T. Last—created a lasting impact on the growth and development of the Fowler’s African art collection.
Jay T. Last first met Simpson in the 1960s. At that time, Last had just embarked upon what would become a lifelong passion for collecting African art. With similar aesthetic preferences, the two men quickly established a close rapport, and over the intervening five decades, Last purchased many fine works of African art from Simpson. It was not uncommon for Simpson to approach Last immediately upon receiving new pieces that he thought would appeal to the collector’s specific tastes. All but two of the objects in this exhibition were donated by Jay Last after he purchased them from Merton Simpson. Furthermore, it was because of Jay Last’s role as a major Fowler donor that Merton Simpson’s family offered the Fowler the two rare and exceptional objects in the center of the gallery: a Lobala drum and a Yaka headdress. These works are complimented by stunning works of Lega and Zulu art that were donated to the Fowler Museum by Jay Last.
IMAGE CREDIT: Artist unknown, Drum, Lobala peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Fowler Museum at UCLA, Gift of Merton Simpson Estate, X2015.6.1