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Vanessa German sculpture finds its home at WVU

Portrait of “The Great American Roller Coaster Ride” Work of Art

“The Great American Roller Coaster Ride” by Vanessa German is the newest addition to the Art Museum of West Virginia University. The piece was purchased with the Art Acquisition Fund for A Diverse Collection.

The fund was established last year at the WVU Foundation through the generosity of several donors to specifically support the acquisition of works by BIPOC artists.

“Vanessa German is a riveting storyteller,” says Todd J. Tubutis, Art Museum of WVU director. “Her visual language is celebratory and affirming at the same time it demands that we reckon with ongoing racial and social injustices and inequities. Hers is an important contemporary voice we are fortunate to add to the Art Museum’s collection—which is made possible only through the generosity of so many donors—and we are excited to debut 'The Great American Roller Coaster Ride' for all our visitors in an exhibition next spring.”

Vanessa German is a nationally celebrated poet, performer, sculptor, and activist

based in Pittsburgh. A self-described “citizen artist,” German creates work that explores the power of art and love as a transformative force. Her own neighborhood of Homewood, where she also runs ARThouse, a community arts initiative for children, is intertwined with her artistic practice—even as a source of found objects she incorporates into her sculptures.

“I surrender myself to the objects that call up to me,” she has said. Her intricate mixed-media sculptures combine doll parts, antique tins, cowrie shells, household objects, and African beads. With these three-dimensional collages German reclaims objects and words that symbolize the oppression of African Americans for generations, creating figures that call to mind religious icons, Congolese minkisi sculpture, folk art traditions, and the work of Betye Saar and Fred Wilson.

Close up of “The Great American Roller Coaster Ride” Work of Art

Vanessa German is currently artist-in-residence at the Frick Pittsburgh, where she recently created an immersive sculptural installation titled nothing can separate you from the language you cry in, comprising of a soundscape and three towering altarpieces that represent an elegy to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Elijah McClain.

German’s work is in the collections of numerous museums, including the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. She is the recipient of the 2015 Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant, the 2017 Jacob Lawrence Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the 2018 Don Tyson Prize from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

For more information on the Art Museum of WVU, visit

IMAGES: Vanessa German (b. 1976)

The Great American Roller Coaster Ride, 2017

Found object mixed-media assemblage

71” x 21” x 42”

Museum purchase, Acquisition Fund for a Diverse Collection

Photos courtesy Concept Gallery