Art Keeps Collectors Going: Bernard Lumpkin
Chiffon Thomas, A mother who had no mother, 2017. © Chiffon Thomas. Courtesy of Bernard Lumpkins.
Bernard Lumpkin, Carmine Boccuzzi, and their children with Henry Taylor, The Sweet William Rorex Jr., 2010. Courtesy of Bernard Lumpkin.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we’re reaching out to collectors to hear how art is enriching their lives during this time. Over the next few weeks, as part of our Art Keeps Going campaign, we’ll feature their stories in “Art Keeps Collectors Going,” a new series of editorial articles and videos on Instagram.
For Bernard Lumpkin, collecting art has always been about family. He started buying work by artists of African descent over a decade ago as a way to honor his heritage. And at this moment, while quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic with his husband Carmine Boccuzzi and their children—six-year-old twins Lucy and Felix, and one-year-old Zachary—he’s thinking more about how art continues to bring his family together.
While their Lower Manhattan apartment has become a space for work, play, and remote kindergarten, the family is spending more time than ever with their art—including works by Rashid Johnson, Christina Quarles, Henry Taylor, Kara Walker, and many others. A dedicated art patron, Lumpkin sits on the board of trustees of the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and he serves on committees at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art. Recently, we caught up with Lumpkin to learn about how he’s thinking about art during this time, and how collectors can continue to support artists.
D’Angelo Lovell Williams, The Lovers, 2017. © D’Angelo Lovell Williams. Courtesy of the artist and Higher Pictures.
Artsy: During this period when we’re spending more time at home, are you discovering new things about your art collection?
Bernard Lumpkin: Being at home 24/7 with my husband and three children has made me think a lot about family and art. One of the works that I keep coming back to is a photograph by D’Angelo Lovell Williams from 2019 called Until We Separate (Mom). It’s a beautiful and mesmerizing portrait of the artist with his mother. The curator Jessica Bell Brown talks about the connection that happens in this photograph—both literally and figuratively—through the red string that the photographer and his mother are holding in their mouths. So it’s both a self-portrait and a family portrait.
I had the pleasure of meeting the artist a few summers ago when he was in residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. I’m thrilled to be a Skowhegan trustee and proud of the work we do to support emerging artists like Williams. Since that first studio visit, he and I have continued a dialogue about his work, which deals with intimacy and relationships. Another great photograph of his, which is especially timely given the social-distancing moment we’re in right now, is The Lovers (2017), depicting two men locked in a kiss, their faces covered by black do-rags. Inspired by the 1928 painting of the same name by René Magritte, Williams’s rendition is a commentary on race, sexual taboos, and societal norms. The photograph is on view now at the Lehman College Art Gallery as part of the nationwide traveling exhibition “Young Gifted and Black,” curated by Antwaun Sargent and Matt Wycoff. While the gallery is currently closed, you can check it out at younggiftedblack.com.
Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Blue Dancer, 2017. © Tunji Adeniyi-Jones. Courtesy of Bernard Lumpkins.
William Villalongo, Sista Ancesta (E. Kelley/D.R. of Congo, Pende), 2012. © Villalongo Studio LLC and Susan Inglett Gallery, NY. Courtesy of Bernard Lumpkins.
Artsy: Are there other particular works you’re thinking about more?
B.L.: A painting that has pride-of-place in our home is a large portrait by Henry Taylor, The Sweet William Rorex Jr. (2010). The upper right-hand corner depicts the view through a window frame of a rearing horse. It’s an image of nature, of the outdoors, and of freedom: three things we’re all craving right now.
Taylor, whose grandfather was a horse trainer, uses horses in different ways, as the writer Zadie Smith has pointed out. Sometimes they’re symbols of freedom; other times the opposite. The loose brushstrokes and splattered drips of paint are signatures of Taylor’s style and are another reason I keep coming back to this painting—which in fact the artist continued to work on, even after I bought it. But what I love most about The Sweet William Rorex Jr. is that it’s a portrait of family love and connection. On the back of the canvas there’s a handwritten inscription from the artist that says, “For my sweeter than chocolate nephew. Cut the cake.”
Bernard Lumpkin, Carmine Boccuzzi, and their children with Christina Quarles, Faced, 2016 and Jennifer Packer, Joyce, 2012. Courtesy of Bernard Lumpkin.
Sable Elyse Smith, Coloring Book 6, 2018. © Sable Elyse Smith. Courtesy of the artist and JTT, New York
Artsy: Have you found ways to keep in touch with the artists whose works are in your collection?
B.L.: Two large canvases hang on the wall of our nursery: Faced (2016) by Christina Quarles and Joyce (2012) by Jennifer Packer. And whenever I’m in that room playing with baby Zachary, I’m reminded of the dialogue I’ve had with each of those artists over the years, dating back to the first studio visits I had with them.
Since my focus as a collector is on new and emerging artists, studio visits are often the primary way that I get to know an artist and their work. Thanks to Zoom and FaceTime, you can still do a studio visit during a pandemic. This exchange of ideas is vital to the art world and I want to support that as artists continue to make work and be in dialogue with each other, curators, and collectors.
Every morning when baby Zachary wakes up in his crib he gazes up at those two paintings over his crib, and I like to think that he too feels the joy that I’ve had through knowing Christina Quarles and Jennifer Packer, living with their work, and talking with them about it.
Sadie Barnette, Untitled (People’s World), 2018. © Sadie Barnette. Courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles.
Artsy: Have you found ways to support artists and art spaces during this time?
B.L.: I’m inspired and heartened by the efforts I see from all different corners of the art world to support artists in this difficult and challenging time. Collectors and patrons are doing their part by continuing to support artists directly, as well as by supporting the galleries, museums, and other nonprofits that support artists. I’m a trustee of the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and even though we had to cancel this summer’s residency, we’re still paying the artists who had committed to teaching in the program. There are amazing fundraisers and benefit sales like Pictures for Elmhurst, which raised $1.3 million to benefit Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. Arts organizations like Independent Curators International are raising money to support curators. Creative Capital has compiled a list of relief grants and emergency funds for artists. There’s also the Artist Relief fund, the NADA Gallery Relief Fund, the list goes on. So there are many ways to help.