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Bernard Lumpkin on Bringing His Private Art Collection to the Public

Charles Moore
Sep 1, 2021 10:05PM

Vaughn Spann, Staring back at you, rooted and unwavering, 2018. © Vaughn Spann. Courtesy of the artist; Martin Parsekian / Half Gallery; and the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art.

Portrait of Bernard Lumpkin by Dawn Blackman, 2019. Courtesy of Bernard Lumpkin.

In September 2019, collectors Bernard Lumpkin and Carmine Boccuzzi took their art collection to a new level when they first mounted their traveling exhibition “Young, Gifted, and Black: The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art.” Co-curated by renowned critic and curator Antwaun Sargent and writer and artist Matt Wycoff, the show features outstanding works by prominent emerging and established artists of African descent—including Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Sadie Barnette, Derrick Adams, Kerry James Marshall, Rashid Johnson, Caitlin Cherry, Alteronce Gumby, and Chase Hall, among many others—all drawn from their esteemed private collection. Now opening at its third venue, Chicago’s Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois, from September 2 through December 11, 2021, “Young, Gifted and Black” is a reflection of the couple’s museum-worthy collection and their dedication to sharing it with an ever-growing audience.

Prior to developing “Young, Gifted and Black,” Lumpkin and Boccuzzi regularly welcomed people into their home to see the collection, loaned pieces to institutions, and took cues from other patrons they admire. “Something I tell younger collectors is, ‘Try to always think of ways in which you can increase your impact as a collector, as a patron, beyond just acquiring artwork,’” Lumpkin said. “Usually what I mean by that is to get involved with a museum, support artists in other ways beyond just collecting their work, and build a community around your collection.”

Jarett Key, Key Family in the Garden, 2019. © Jarett Key. Courtesy of the artist; 1969 Gallery; and the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art.

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The idea for the exhibition came about as a means of connecting with an even broader audience—an exhibition could tour new venues and reach more young people poised to connect with emerging artists. A former producer at MTV, Lumpkin immediately recognized the impact of traveling across the country and building relationships in new places.

Though Lumpkin is the original curator of the collection, putting the exhibition together was a collaborative effort. Sargent, Wycoff, and collection manager Ryder Baldwin sat down with Lumpkin at his dining room table to examine the collection, conceptualize the exhibition, and weave together the story they sought to tell. The team began to think, for instance, about what an Eric Mack wall tapestry might look like adjacent to a cement Jarrett Key fresco. The show was born from their conversations about what different artists were saying about material, color, texture, and, above all else, about Black identity in America. The team put together wall texts and pamphlets to share with venues, created a checklist to showcase the bones of the exhibition, and encouraged each venue to adapt the show as they saw fit. In speaking with prospective venues, Lumpkin recalled, they acknowledged, “You know your audience best; you know the community that is going to experience this exhibition, so we want you to make it your own.”

Tomashi Jackson, Still Remains, 2018. © Tomashi Jackson. Courtesy of the artist; Tilton Gallery, New York; and the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art.

Wilmer Wilson IV, Pres, 2017. © Wilmer Wilson IV. Courtesy of the artist and the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art.

The exhibition first came to fruition in September 2019 at Concordia College’s OSilas Gallery in Bronxville, New York, then opened at Lehman College Art Gallery in the Bronx in late February 2020. The initial venues were local to New York (where Lumpkin and Boccuzzi reside), and featured New York-based artists, like D’Angelo Lovell Williams and Narcissister, who also gave talks. The format was designed to foster conversation and to get the artists’ work and vision out into the world, particularly in the contexts of college campuses—hubs for engagement and education. Now expanding beyond New York to Gallery 400 in Chicago, the show will move on to the museums of Lehigh University and the University of California, Davis.

Meanwhile, Lumpkin and Boccuzzi’s collection is still growing. Lumpkin notes that he is constantly in dialogue with artists and looking for new and innovative approaches to artmaking. He takes a building-block approach to new acquisitions, looking to recent additions to the collection to inform the next ones. Lumpkin noticed, for example, that he was drawn to works formed from found objects, personal items, and even clothing. He came across Tomashi Jackson, and, while researching other artists who relied on unconventional materials, he discovered Kathia St. Hilaire, who uses advertisements for hair products in her artwork.

Cy Gavin, Underneath the George Washington Bridge, 2016. © Cy Gavin. Courtesy of the artist; Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York / Rome; and the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art.

“I think it’s important to consider what you’re trying to do with your collection,” Lumpkin said. “That will naturally lead you to the next piece, or the next artist, or the next chapter you want to tell in the story of your collection—whatever that story happens to be.” Jordan Casteel, for instance, introduced Lumpkin to the complexity of visual representations of the Black body, which prompted a deeper investigation into the impacts of color and form. This, in turn, led him to artists including Jennifer Packer and Christina Quarles.

“Young, Gifted and Black” is now poised to open in Chicago after a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lumpkin noted that the show initially might have appealed more to members of the art world than to the general public. But that may be different now, in the wake of George Floyd’s May 2020 killing, and the subsequent protests have resulted in a marked shift in public awareness of race relations. The show, the artists, the works, the accompanying catalog, and the mission of the project as a whole have taken on new meaning. The featured works speak to issues such as diversity and inclusion; and challenging museums and galleries to hire more people of color, promote the works of more diverse artists, and reconsider community engagement and support strategies.

In Lumpkin’s view, just as artists are activists, patrons and collectors have a duty and a privilege to work toward progress and justice. Building his collection with this in mind has been crucial to representing, collaborating, and advocating for change. “Young, Gifted and Black” is just the beginning.

Charles Moore
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019