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Matthew Day Jackson’s “Sacajawea (American Martyr Series)”
Matthew Day Jackson’s “Sacajawea (American Martyr Series)”Matthew Day Jackson

The Mead Art Museum at Amherst College has received an anonymous donation of more than 170 works of contemporary art, including pieces by such well-known artists as David Hockney, Mona Hatoum, Cindy Sherman, Mark Bradford, and Christian Marclay.

With works ranging from Andres Serrano’s portrait of Johnathan Lee Iverson, the first African-American ringmaster of a major US circus, to Mona Hatoum’s intestine-shaped silicone “Rubber Mat” (1996), and Matthew Day Jackson’s “Sacajawea (American Martyr Series)” (2005), crafted from scorched wood, mother of pearl, abalone, yarn, and more, the collection boasts an idiosyncratic selection of artwork, Mead Art Museum director and chief curator David E. Little said in a phone interview. “It’s not cookie-cutter,” he said.

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Visitors will be able to view many of the recently donated works in a celebratory exhibition, “Starting Something New: Recent Contemporary Art Acquisitions and Gifts,” which opens Sept. 10 and runs through May 31. Little curated the exhibit, which will unite more than 60 contemporary works, pulled from both the newly donated collection and the museum’s own recent acquisitions. Artworks in the exhibit date from 1967 to the present.

Among the works from the gift that will be in the show are an eerie theatrical diptych by Sherman and what Little calls a “sweet” and “magical” Hockney etching of a dog curled up on a chair.

The anonymous gift is a boon for the Mead, in part because contemporary art is notoriously cost-prohibitive. These days, institutions with limited budgets are hard-pressed to compete in the market with wealthy individual buyers. “It’s not just the universities and colleges that can’t afford contemporary work, it’s also the major museums,” says Little. “They have been priced out — even places like MoMA and the Whitney.”

“So to be able to get that scope of work has a tremendous impact on us, and the quality as well,” Little said. He’s looking forward to the opportunities for students to interact with the works as research resources for projects, and he says he hopes to invite many of the living artists in the collection to speak on campus.

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With a student body around 45 percent composed of students of color, Amherst College should offer students access to artwork that speaks to them, Little believes. He hopes this gift will help make that goal a reality — “so that, when students come in, they can see their own lives and their own cultures reflected in the work,” Little said. “It’s nice for students to come in and see work that speaks directly to their generation.”

Starting Something New: Recent Contemporary Art Acquisitions and Gifts

At the Mead Art Museum, 41 Quadrangle, Amherst, Sept. 10 through May 31. 413-542-2000, amherst.edu/museums/mead.


Nora McGreevy can be reached at nora.mcgreevy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @mcgreevynora.