Privately Owned by Johnson, the Barnett-Aden Collection is one of the country’s oldest collections of African American art

BETHESDA, Md., Feb. 4, 2015 — Robert L. Johnson, founder of The RLJ Companies and founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), today announced a donation of select artworks from his privately owned Barnett-Aden Collection to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. A terracotta sculpture (Head of a Negro Woman) by Elizabeth Catlett and paintings from Romare Bearden (A Walk in Paradise Gardens), Archibald John Motley Jr. (The Argument), Henry O. Tanner (Flight into Egypt), and Frederick C. Flemister (Self-Portrait) will become part of the Museum’s permanent exhibition.

“As a founding council member of the NMAAHC, the artwork I have donated represents pride and dignity and is a celebration of the diverse aspects of African American history. Each piece not only represents the creative genius of the artist but also tells a story and is a tribute to African American art and culture,” said Johnson. “I identify personally with several pieces from the Barnett-Aden Collection, and I am confident the National Museum of African American History and Culture will ensure that the works from such talented artists of early American history are preserved and exposed for both educational, cultural, and enjoyment by millions of Americans and people from around the world who tour the Museum,” he concluded.

“We are delighted to receive such a significant donation from Robert L. Johnson to house as part the museum’s permanent collection,” said Lonnie G. Bunch, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “Mr. Johnson’s gift of artworks from the Barnett-Aden Collection marks an important milestone for the museum and for the establishment of the visual arts permanent collection,” he continued.

The Barnett-Aden Collection was founded in 1943 by Howard University’s James Herring and Alonzo Aden and is reported to be one of the country’s oldest collections of African American art featuring portraiture, urban genre themes and depictions of the African American experience.

Since the 1980s, Johnson has assembled a private collection of more than 250 pieces of artwork by 19th and 20th Century artists. The Barnett-Aden Collection, which documents the struggles, achievements and celebrations of black people in America, was acquired by Johnson in 1998 from the National Museum of African American Art (NMAAA) based in Florida, and selections from the Collection were displayed in Washington, D.C. in early 2009.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Visual Arts Gallery will be the only permanent art exhibition on the Smithsonian Mall dedicated to illustrating the critical role American artists of African descent played in shaping the history of American art. The gallery will contain various modes of fine art production, including painting, sculpture, works on paper, art installations, mixed media, photography and digital media.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established by an Act of Congress through legislation signed into law in 2003 by President George W. Bush. Scheduled to open in 2016, the museum is under construction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on a five-acre tract adjacent to the Washington Monument. Upon completion, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will become the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural institution devoted exclusively to exploring and documenting the African American story and its impact on American history.

About The RLJ Companies: The RLJ Companies, founded by Robert L. Johnson, is an innovative business network that provides strategic investments in a diverse portfolio of companies. Within The RLJ Companies portfolio, Johnson owns or holds interests in businesses operating in a publicly traded hotel real estate investment trust, private equity, financial services, asset management, automobile dealerships, sports and entertainment, and video lottery terminal (VLT) gaming. The RLJ Companies is headquartered in Bethesda, MD, with affiliate operations in Charlotte, NC; Little Rock, AR; Los Angeles, CA; San Juan, PR; and Monrovia, Liberia. Prior to founding The RLJ Companies, Johnson was founder and chairman of Black Entertainment Television (BET). For more information visit:

About the Barnett-Aden Collection: The Barnett-Aden Collection was originally assembled by the founders of the Barnett-Aden Gallery, James Herring and Alonzo Aden, from the 1940s through the 1960s and was built by the purchase of works shown in the Gallery throughout the years. Works by prominent African American artists such as James Porter, Romare Bearden, Archibald Motley, Henry O. Tanner, Dox Thrash, Elizabeth Catlett, and Raymond Barthé were exhibited by the Gallery and are now part of the permanent Barnett-Aden Collection, which currently includes: fifty-four pieces of African art, 107 paintings, eleven sculptures, and nine drawings, along with fifteen pieces of ephemera, photos, and the original desk used at the Barnett-Aden Gallery.

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