Exhibition Celebrates a Half Century of Art-making by Developmentally Disabled Artists

Blog: Exhibition Celebrates a Half Century

A new exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOA) showcases the work of developmentally disabled artists from the Creative Growth studio in Oakland, California.

On view through Oct. 6, 2024, “Creative Growth: The House That Art Built” celebrates the 50th anniversary of the studio — the first visual arts organization in the United States to support the work of artists with developmental disabilities.

The exhibition encompasses work created between 1981 and 2021, including acrylic paintings, pastel drawing, ceramics sculpture and film by artists Joseph Alef, Camille Holvoet, Susan Janow, Dwight Mackintosh, John Martin, Dan Miller, Donald Mitchell, Judith Scott, William Scott, Ron Veasey, and Alice Wong. Also on display are materials that document the history of Creative Growth and the organization’s influence on the disability, arts, and disability arts movements. In addition, SFMOMA commissioned a new piece by William Scott that’s installed at the entry to the museum’s second floor galleries.

Creative Growth was founded by artist Florence Ludin-Katz and her husband Elias Katz, a psychologist, in 1974 after the deinstitutionalization movement left many people with developmental disabilities without the support they needed to thrive in their communities. The Katzes believed that making art helped people with developmental disabilities find inner peace as well as outward acceptance by others who could appreciate their work.

“…Each person has the right to the richest and fullest development of which he is capable,” said the Katzes on SFMOMA’s website. “Only then can society reach its fullest potential … Creativity is a vital living force within each individual.”

According to The New York Times, “Creative Growth: The House That Art Built,” includes approximately 80 works by 23 artists associated with Creative Growth, and affiliated Bay Area organizations Creativity Explored and NIAD (Nurturing Independence Through Artistic Development). Both affiliated organizations were also founded by the Katzes.  “The exhibition draws from SFMOMA’s half-million-dollar acquisition of more than 100 Creative Growth artworks, the largest purchase by any American museum of the work of disabled artists,” said theTimes.

While New York City museums such as the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Modern Art have acquired a few pieces by artists with developmental disabilities, they are typically shown only as part of “special displays,” says The New York Times art critic, Jonathan Griffin. He contends that what SFMOMA is doing is ground-breaking.

“The acquisition is part of a partnership with Creative Growth through which the museum, led since 2022 by the director Christopher Bedford, pledges to introduce more art by developmentally disabled people from the three Bay Area organizations into its collection displays, and consequently into the canon of modernist art history.”