Suzanne Jackson, Nest, 1971, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of the 2024 Collectors Committee with additional funds provided by The Buddy Taub Foundation, Stephanie and Dennis Roach, Directors, © Suzanne Jackson, courtesy of the artist and Ortuzar Projects, New York, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

New Acquisition: Suzanne Jackson’s “Nest”

May 2, 2024
Stephanie Barron, Senior Curator and Department Head, Modern Art

Suzanne Jackson is a legendary Savannah-based visual artist, educator, set designer, and one-time gallerist whose work of the last 50 years is enjoying increased critical attention. Raised in Alaska before statehood, Jackson moved to San Francisco to study art and dance before arriving in Los Angeles in 1967, a year after the Watts rebellion. She found a large studio near MacArthur Park and the Otis Art Institute, where she studied drawing with the celebrated teacher Charles White. Encouraged by fellow artists she opened a short-lived gallery in her studio, one of the only spaces where emerging Black artists could exhibit in the city. Less a successful business than a communal place hosting exhibitions, political fundraisers, meetings, and poetry readings, Jackson’s Gallery 32 became an early venue for a community of Black artists including David Hammons, Senga Nengudi, John Outterbridge, Betye Saar, and Timothy Washington and an essential part of Los Angeles’s burgeoning art scene. Over the July 4th weekend in 1970 Jackson debuted Sapphire Show, a pop-up of its day with six women including Jackson, Betye Saar, and Senga Nengudi—likely the first show of Black women artists. It was “exciting, fun, and triumphant,” recalls Nengudi. 

Exhausted from self-funding the gallery, Jackson decided to close Gallery 32 in 1970. She relocated to San Francisco, where she began a period of great  creativity and increased attention from galleries and museums. In Nest, painted shortly after the birth of her son Rafiki, Jackson depicts an almost life-size toddler. Fearless, he appears firmly grounded, sandwiched between two heart-shaped forms with outstretched hands pointing in opposite directions. Emblematic of her early practice, Jackson applied multiple coats of acrylic on a white gesso ground to achieve a delicate watercolor-like effect. Her iconography of dreamlike forms and figures suspended against stark white gessoed backgrounds evoke personal and political associations which are mirrored in the introspective poetry she was writing at the time.

Nest was originally owned by Ben Hazard, a Black artist and curator at the Oakland Museum of Art. Jackson’s work has been the subject of recent interest, having been included in Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980 (2011–13) and MoMA’s Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces (2022), as well as in the current Whitney Biennial. Next year SFMOMA will open a retrospective that will travel to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Jackson’s Nest is the first painting in LACMA’s collection by this important 80 year-old Black woman artist, whose life has made a lasting mark on art and art-making in Los Angeles, and who continues to make engaging work. 

During our 38th annual Collectors Committee Weekend (April 27–28, 2024), members of LACMA's Collectors Committee generously helped the museum acquire 10 works of art spanning a breadth of eras and cultures. Read more about all the acquisitions.