The singer Paul Robeson once said, "Artists are the gatekeepers of the truth. We are civilization's radical voice." Collectors of Black art often see themselves as custodians of the history, culture, and nuanced narratives of the global Black experience. These collectors often feel honor-bound to protect Black artists and preserve Black culture, which for so long, and so often, has been excluded from contemporary art spaces.
In honor of Black History Month, this list features a group of Black collectors with distinct points of view on whom they collect, how and why they purchase art, and what imprint they want their collections to leave on the world. Former NBA player Elliot Perry explains why he purchases "hard-to-look-at" works; Denise Gardner discusses how she uses Instagram to discover artists; Larry Ossei-Mensah talks about collecting as a journey with an artist; and Charlotte Newman expresses her interest in work that explores realms beyond this planet.
The collectors below are just as important as the artists they collect. It is through their relationship-building with the artists, their desire to use art as catalyst to create community, and their purchasing of work that has made the market for works by Black artists thrive in a way it perhaps never has before. Their relentless pursuit to sustain meaningful presence in the contemporary art world is proof that Black art is indeed the future.
Partner & Creative Director of UTA Fine arts and UTA Artist Space
"Art has always been my love," says Arthur Lewis. "It keeps me engaged in the world with the curiosity of a child." Lewis has been collecting art for upward of 30 years, ever since he bought his first piece at the PBS auction for $75. The creative director at United Talent Agency primarily collects artist of color because he is "drawn to their stories, which have too often been marginalized," he said. Though Lewis believes has had been overlooked or not considered a serious collector in the past, he finds that COVID-19 pandemic has broken down some of the art world's traditional barriers, creating more space to welcome new art buyers.
Lorna Simpson, Night Dreams, 2020.
Photo by James Wang. Courtesy of the artist, Hauser & Wirth, and Arthur Lewis.
copyright Lorna Simpson.
Naudline Pierre, Closer Still, 2017, Courtesy of the artist and Arthur Lewis.
Lewis, who is on the National Advisory Committee for the New Orleans African American Museum and is a member of the Studio Museum in Harlem's Chairman's Circle, believes in supporting artists by buying their art and developing meaningful relationships with them. Some of Lewis's most beloved pieces in his collection are a work by Lorna Simpson titled Night Dreams (2020) and a Titus Kaphar's 2016 painting Enough About You. "New voices are emerging from many different channels, and I think it is broadening the perspective and reach of their practices," he said. "What an exciting time to be a Black artists!"
Founding partner at Avid Partners
The collection Pamela Joyner has built with her husband Alfred J. Giuffrida is what Joyner has called a mission-driven collection. Together, they have accumulated nearly 400 pieces by artists including Charles Gaines, Jennie C. Jones, Lorna Simposon, Kevin Beasley, and Julie Mehretu. However, if you ask a number of today's most important contemporary artists about Pamela Joyner, they'll say that she is more than a collector - she is an advocate for the arts.