Art

These Black Collectors Are Shaping the Future of the Art World

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 a 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 a meaningful presence in the contemporary art world is proof that Black art is indeed the future.

“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 upwards of 30 years, ever since he bought his first piece at a PBS auction for $75. The creative director at United Talent Agency primarily collects artists of color because he is “drawn to their stories, which have too often been marginalized,” he said. Though Lewis believes he had been overlooked or not considered a serious collector in the past, he finds that the 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. © Lorna Simpson. Photo by James Wang. Courtesy of the artist, Hauser & Wirth, and Arthur Lewis.

Lorna Simpson, Night Dreams, 2020. © Lorna Simpson. Photo by James Wang. Courtesy of the artist, Hauser & Wirth, and Arthur Lewis.

Naudline Pierre, Closer Still, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Arthur Lewis.

Naudline Pierre, Closer Still, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Arthur Lewis.

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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 titled Night Dreams (2020) and ’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 artist!”

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 , , Lorna Simpson, , and . 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.
Charles Gaines, Numbers and Trees: Central Park Series I: Tree #9, Pamela, 2016. © Charles Gaines. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Charles Gaines, Numbers and Trees: Central Park Series I: Tree #9, Pamela, 2016. © Charles Gaines. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Based in San Francisco, Joyner is a trustee at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the J. Paul Getty Trust. She sits on the boards of the Tate Americas Foundation and the Art Institute of Chicago, and is on the painting and sculpture committee at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The artist tapped her to be on the board of advisors for his nonprofit organization Art + Practice.
Joyner is on a mission to reimagine the contemporary art canon. Part of that mission is including Black artists that have been excluded and making space for more African American artists and artists of the African diaspora. “We are dedicated to supporting institutional acquisitions and lending, and raising the voices of deserving artists of the African diaspora,” Joyner said. Her efforts have proven to be invaluable: Joyner was critical to establishing the African American Art History Initiative at the J. Paul Getty Museum, making the museum an important research center for African American art history.
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Kevin Beasley, installation view of Chair of the Ministers of Defense, 2016, in “Hammer Projects: Kevin Beasley” at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Photo by Brian Forrest. Courtesy of the artist, the Hammer Museum, The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection, and The Rennie Collection.

Kevin Beasley, installation view of Chair of the Ministers of Defense, 2016, in “Hammer Projects: Kevin Beasley” at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Photo by Brian Forrest. Courtesy of the artist, the Hammer Museum, The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection, and The Rennie Collection.

Joyner said the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent racial unrest have had an impact on art institutions. “There was already a trend in the museum arena to pay more attention to art history as a whole, including Black voices. Now there’s an amplification and an acceleration,” she explained. “I find the environment more open than it’s ever been, in my experience, to new ideas around promoting Black voices, so people are looking more broadly at acquisitions, programming, and exhibitions.”

For collector Rudy Austin, gut instinct is the barometer for what artworks will end up on his walls. “I only buy works that I like,” he said. Austin, a finance professional, was raised between New York City and Belize City, and began collecting in 2015 to decorate a new home. In the search for artwork, a spark was ignited, and he continued to stoke the flame when made his first serious purchase: Rainbow Brigade III (2015) by the Nigerian artist . Austin has since added more of her work to his collection.
Somaya Critchlow, Head, 2019. Courtesy of the artist, Maximillian William, and Rudy Austin.

Somaya Critchlow, Head, 2019. Courtesy of the artist, Maximillian William, and Rudy Austin.

Chase Hall, Arthur Ashe, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Rudy Austin.

Chase Hall, Arthur Ashe, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Rudy Austin.

Though COVID-19 has changed the way he collects, Austin hasn’t stopped looking for new works. “The fairs have become online portals that have ushered in new levels of transparency around pricing and availability. My response to this disruption in the market has been to play offense by going after anchors for my collection,” he explained. “The decelerated market gives emerging collectors an opportunity to garner seminal works that may have once been out of reach.”
Lately, Austin has been seeking more sculpture and abstract works. His most recent acquisitions include works by , , and . Both Austin’s eye and heart gravitate to figurative works by women of color. A self-admitted “girl dad,” Austin wants his children to see themselves depicted through art in a positive light.

Former NBA star Elliot Perry has been collecting art, along with his wife Kimberly, for 25 years. “The overall mission of our collection is the preservation of culture and history,” explained Perry. “But more importantly than that, we are building a collection that’s asking you questions.”
Introduced to art by fellow former NBA player Darrell Walker, Perry began reading contemporary art books and catalogues and visiting galleries, museums, and artist studios. His first purchase was a print called Tennessee Tea Taster (1992) by . For Perry, a native son of Tennessee, it was the perfect first piece.
Jadé Fadojutimi, It’s Rural, 2019. Courtesy of the artist, Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, and Elliot Perry.

Jadé Fadojutimi, It’s Rural, 2019. Courtesy of the artist, Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, and Elliot Perry.

D’Angelo Lovell Williams, Face Down, Ass Up, 2016. Courtesy of the artist, Higher Pictures, and Elliot Perry.

D’Angelo Lovell Williams, Face Down, Ass Up, 2016. Courtesy of the artist, Higher Pictures, and Elliot Perry.

Over the years, while building a formidable collection, Perry also wondered, “How can this collection be informative and transformative too?” Through acquiring what he calls “hard-to-look-at work,” Perry wants to push viewers beyond their comfort zones. He cites ’s Face Down, Ass Up (2016) as an example of this kind of piece—the photograph can be read as a commentary on sexual assault. Perry said he wants to know if we can have “hard conversations as a community” about these issues, because without them, there is no chance for healing.
After years of adding works from artists like , , and to his collection, Perry is now shifting gears. In an attempt to stretch himself as an art lover and collector, he is focusing his attention on acquiring more abstract pieces. “Look at an artist like ,” Perry said. “She has built in a new language with her abstract work. She has her own style and language.”

“Fine art is one kind of cultural capital created by the Black community,” said Charlotte Newman. “However, while we create, too often, we don’t retain it for our own community.”
This hard truth has served as an impetus for collector Newman, who has served as an advisor to four members of the United States Congress and currently is the head of underrepresented founder startup business development at Amazon Web Services. She was introduced to contemporary art as a child by her parents and her godmother, the artist Tina Dunkley, and later majored in art history at Wellesley College. Soon, she began acquiring works by , Vaughn Spann, and .
Turiya Magadlela, My womb is at fault 11, 2016. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, and the Scott-Newman Collection.

Turiya Magadlela, My womb is at fault 11, 2016. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, and the Scott-Newman Collection.

Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, Les Oréides (after Bouguereau), 2017. Courtesy of the artist, Tiwani Contemporary, and the Scott-Newman Collection.

Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, Les Oréides (after Bouguereau), 2017. Courtesy of the artist, Tiwani Contemporary, and the Scott-Newman Collection.

Newman finds herself drawn to artists who are exploring questions related to identity—racial, gender, sexual—often with political overtones. As of late, though, her tastes have turned to mythology and the cosmos. “Alteronce Gumby’s work goes beyond Afrofuturism—he’s drawing on the whole cosmos and thinking about spaces beyond this planet,” Newman said. “We are but a dot in this large universe. What does it look like to imagine other dimensions and other galaxies? What does that mean for our sense of creativity and our imagination? This can all be tied to Black creativity and liberation.”
Alteronce Gumby, Mirrors in the sky, like stars in a dark room, 2020. Courtesy of artist and the Scott-Newman Collection.

Alteronce Gumby, Mirrors in the sky, like stars in a dark room, 2020. Courtesy of artist and the Scott-Newman Collection.

While Newman is trying to see the big picture, she’s had experiences with galleries that are not. Many galleries are indeed judicious about collectors—often to a fault. In one instance, while looking for new works by a specific artist, Newman was told, “We’re not placing her work with budding collectors at this time.” As Newman explained, “This particular gallery didn’t try to build a relationship or inquire about my collection. They erected a gate instead of building a bridge.”
But Newman believes that technology is democratizing art. During the COVID-19 pandemic, online viewing rooms and art fairs have offered more access. She also cites the new social media app Clubhouse as a way for there to be a broader discourse about art. On Clubhouse, Newman hosts a conversation called “Art Haus Chat” where she’s led discussions on some of the basics of art history, the future of abstract art, and an in-depth discussion about ’s life and career.

Larry Ossei-Mensah, the curator and co-founder of ARTNOIR, began collecting art about 10 years ago. “Part of it is a romantic idea of starting this journey with somebody before anybody’s paying attention,” he said. Much of the work he collects is from artists who are at early stages of their careers, such as , , , and . “Oftentimes with collecting, you’re trying to make an assessment without a ton of data, just using what you see and feel,” he explained. For Ossei-Mensah, like many collectors, instinct is a huge part of the collecting process.
Tiffany Alfonseca, The Black Woman, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and the Ossei-Mensah Collection.

Tiffany Alfonseca, The Black Woman, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and the Ossei-Mensah Collection.

What Ossei-Mensah is interested in is seeing more Black artists making abstract work. “I want to see more of the breadth of creativity that Black artists possess,” he explained. “I want to see the fullness of Black people; we are dynamic, we’re not a monolith.” For as much as he wants artists to make this kind of work, he also believes the whole ecosystem has to support a pivot of this nature. “It’s a combination of institutional and independent curators taking risks on artists and not waiting for artists to be validated as important,” he said. Ossei-Mensah is widely known to be an advocate for artists. “I am artist first, I build with the artists,” he said. “And as collectors, this is about the journey with the artists.”

Bernard Lumpkin’s love affair with art started when he saw Simon Rodia’s famed Watts Towers as a child. That experience had a profound effect on Lumpkin, one that inextricably bound art, community, and advocacy together. Years later, when the former MTV executive decided to build a collection, it wasn’t enough to acquire solely for enjoyment—he was also inspired by the civic engagement and activism of his late father, Oscar James Lumpkin Jr. “The art collection, and my advocacy for artists, also grew out of conversations with my father,” Lumpkin said. “At the end of his life, my father shared with me many of his ideas about race and history, filtered through his own experience growing up Black in America.”
Tomashi Jackson, Still Remains, 2018. © Tomashi Jackson. Courtesy of the artist, Tilton Gallery, and The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art.

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

Henry Taylor, Rock It, 2008. © Henry Taylor. Courtesy of the artist, Blum & Poe, and The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art.

Henry Taylor, Rock It, 2008. © Henry Taylor. Courtesy of the artist, Blum & Poe, and The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art.

His early acquisitions were works by Rashid Johnson, Jordan Casteel, and . Lumpkin and his husband, Carmine Boccuzzi, started using their home to host receptions, panels, performances, book launches, and other gatherings for artists and arts patrons. “Opening our home to the art world and beyond became our way of integrating the collection into larger conversations about culture, politics, and society,” Lumpkin explained.
Today, the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi collection has grown to almost 500 pieces and has been wonderfully transformed into a traveling exhibition, “Young, Gifted, and Black: The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art.” (The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi collection was also turned into a best-selling book in 2020.) The exhibition debuted at OSilas Gallery at Concordia College in September 2019, and will continue to travel to various colleges and universities throughout the country. “Holding the exhibition on a college campus—young artists speaking to other young people—was especially appealing to me,” said Lumpkin. “But my greatest joy was watching other viewers make their own discoveries, and experience for themselves the transformative and revelatory power of art.”

Phyllis Hollis will never forget seeing ’s work for the first time at MoMA in 2019. She was so moved by the pieces on display, she had to sit down.
Experiencing intense feelings while looking at artworks is what originally led Hollis to become a collector. “Viewing art has always ignited unique feelings. I get really absorbed and intellectually stimulated. I can feel the work,” Hollis said. As a young woman working on Wall Street in the 1980s, she first stumbled into the art world when a colleague invited her to tag along for a studio visit. A work by the abstract painter became her first purchase, and Hollis has been acquiring art ever since.
Ferrari Sheppard, Long Live June Tyson. Acrylic, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Phyllis Hollis.

Ferrari Sheppard, Long Live June Tyson. Acrylic, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Phyllis Hollis.

Arcmanoro Niles, Untitled, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Phyllis Hollis.

Arcmanoro Niles, Untitled, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Phyllis Hollis.

Hollis, who is on the board of trustees at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, is currently enamored by the beauty of her latest purchase, a work by the figurative painter , Long Live June Tyson (2020). “His ‘black’ is velvet on canvas; it’s stunning every time even with just a glance,” she said. Hollis first stumbled upon Sheppard’s work the same way many collectors are finding emerging artists—on Instagram. Drawn to Sheppard’s paintings, Hollis asked him to be featured on her podcast, Cerebral Women Art Talks. In conversation, she found Sheppard to be a thoughtful and nuanced thinker.
As Hollis sees it, social media is democratizing the long-reigning hierarchical structure of contemporary art. “Collectors have the opportunity to view art endlessly online, discover emerging artists, have the ability to research an artist, view their virtual talks, and go on studio visits,” she said.

As the co-founder of the food collective Ghetto Gastro, Jon Gray’s professional career has been driven by his gastronomical taste. Over the past several months, Ghetto Gastro has been working with La Morada, an Oaxacan restaurant in the South Bronx, to help feed people during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it’s Gray’s passion for art that has led him to develop a burgeoning collection.
Cheyenne Julien, Bird Watchers, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Jon Gray.

Cheyenne Julien, Bird Watchers, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Jon Gray.

Aya Brown, “Natalia Mednez” Head Chef at La Morada, COVID-19, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Jon Gray.

Aya Brown, “Natalia Mednez” Head Chef at La Morada, COVID-19, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Jon Gray.

In 2008, during his first trip to Art Basel in Miami Beach, Gray learned just how monochromatic contemporary art is. Born and raised in the Bronx by strong Black women, he feels a particular allegiance to support artists from his home borough and works that represent Black women. Gray regards his ability to maneuver the historically racist and elitist contemporary art space as a superpower. “For me, it’s not just being Black. I’m also challenging the respectability politics of the educated and the elite,” he explained.
While Gray does collect art, he doesn’t like to be called an art collector. “I don’t consider myself a collector,” he said. “The term feels colonial and oppressive to me. I think of myself more as a custodian of the work and the culture.” This guiding principle has led Gray to acquire works like ’s Angela As Black Divinity (2020), ’s Bird Watchers (2020), and Aya Brown’s Natalia Mednez Head Chef at La Morada, COVID-19 (2020).

“I’m judicious about what I acquire because I want to be able to look at it every day,” said Denise Gardner, who is the vice-chairman of the board at the Art Institute of Chicago. “It’s such a thrill to wake up and the work is on the walls saying ‘Good morning’ to you.”
When Gardner began volunteering on the Art Institute of Chicago’s African American advisory committee in 1994, it became a pivotal moment in her collecting journey. “That really opened my eyes to a whole world of African American artists,” she said. “Chicago had an important place in history. I learned about all of that history thanks largely to my involvement with the museum.” Subsequently, Gardner and her husband became more intentional about building a collection filled with fixtures of the Black art canon like , , and .
Candida Alvarez, dadadahlia, 2005–08. Courtesy of the artist, Monique Meloche Gallery, Gavlak, and Denise Gardner.

Candida Alvarez, dadadahlia, 2005–08. Courtesy of the artist, Monique Meloche Gallery, Gavlak, and Denise Gardner.

Amy Sherald, A clear unspoken granted magic, 2017. © Amy Sherald. Courtesy of the artist, Monique Meloche Gallery, and Denise Gardner.

Amy Sherald, A clear unspoken granted magic, 2017. © Amy Sherald. Courtesy of the artist, Monique Meloche Gallery, and Denise Gardner.

Recently, Gardner decided to pivot, turning her attention and support to women artists of the African diaspora. “Their aesthetic really resonates with us,” she explained. “There are so many phenomenal women artists that are creating masterpieces.” Artists like , , , and have captivated Gardner’s attention. “I see a responsibility to participate and have those kinds of artists in our collection,” she said.
Gardner also uses Instagram to discover and research new artists. For her, Instagram is gratifying in that it allows her to witness an artist’s process and progress. While she delights in the accessibility of Black artists today, Gardner remembers when that wasn’t the case. She recalled that “15 years ago, there was very little representation for artists of color and Black artists. Back then, all the Black collectors found themselves in one booth, and now there are a number of Black artists represented at the fairs, many by mainstream galleries. That’s a significant change.”

Pigeonly CEO and serial entrepreneur Frederick Hutson first went down a rabbit hole on the online art market in order to address bare wall space in his home. By the time he was done, he had made his first purchases: works by and .
Early on, Hutson realized “what made me get excited about collecting is the idea of having something unique and having something that’s a one-of-one.” Like any art collector, he cherishes the unique qualities of all the pieces in his collection. But the common theme that runs throughout all of the works Hutson has purchased is “conflict.” As Hutson explained it, “That’s what I’m attracted to, I notice [in] the works that I gravitate to, that I like the most, it’s always some sort of conflict. I embrace the general conflicts in my own life. My collecting reflects that.”
Alex Gardner, Worried About You Worrying About Me Being Worried About You, 2017. Courtesy of the artist, The Hole, and Frederick Hutson.

Alex Gardner, Worried About You Worrying About Me Being Worried About You, 2017. Courtesy of the artist, The Hole, and Frederick Hutson.

Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Uncle Gus, 2017. Courtesy of the artist, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, and Frederick Hutson.

Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Uncle Gus, 2017. Courtesy of the artist, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, and Frederick Hutson.

For Hutson, building a collection has been about developing relationships and cultivating an eye for emerging artists. The latter he likens to venture capitalists trying to identify promising start-ups with the potential to be the next Facebook or Instagram. “As my eye started to develop I was able to identify who I thought was going to be the important artists of my time, my generation, before everybody else was paying attention to them,” Hutson explained. This approach led him to buy early work by and .
Like the rest of the art world, over the last few years Hutson has seen an increase in the embrace and demand for Black artists. He suspects, though, that this increase isn’t a trend or a fad, but more of a balancing out that finally reflects what the world actually looks like.

Miami native Lorenzo Atkinson fell hard for a painting. When a friend encouraged him to buy it, he thought the idea was preposterous—though Atkinson had been a longtime art lover, he had yet to buy a piece. After an inquiry to Chromati’s gallery, and with a little persistence, Atkinson acquired the work he was so enamored with. “Theresa Chromati’s work is always so captivating,” he explained. “I’ve had it for over three years and I’m still finding beautiful hidden details in it.”
Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., Unwilling or unable, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Lorenzo Atkinson.

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., Unwilling or unable, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Lorenzo Atkinson.

Skye Volmar, A simulation//Assimilation, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Lorenzo Atkinson.

Skye Volmar, A simulation//Assimilation, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Lorenzo Atkinson.

As his collection grew, Atkinson started attending MFA exhibitions, building relationships with small galleries, and discovering artists on Instagram. Atkinson credits the artist specifically for spotlighting emerging artists. But still, Atkinson faces challenges common to many newer collectors—building relationships with galleries takes time, access to work is often difficult, and more established collectors have the connections to be prioritized.
Even so, his growing collection now includes works by , , and . Like most other collectors, Atkinson doesn’t like to play favorites. But if he had to pick a work he is most fond of at the moment, it would be a drawing by the artist titled A simulation//Assimilation (2019), which is a recent addition to his collection.

“I’m always supporting artists,” said Gardy St. Fleur. The art collector and advisor often finds himself sitting across from emerging contemporary artists or on the other end of the phone listening to their concerns and new concepts. “We have three-hour conversations about their lives. Those kinds of conversations make you look at the work differently,” he said. Because of his intimate connections with artists, St. Fleur finds himself in a very rare and prized position—as a creative springboard. Artists will bounce ideas off of him and, because he is well-versed in the dynamism of the art world, a type of intellectual ping-pong occurs.
Sedrick Chisom, The Superstitions of Ahab, who pissed against the wall, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and the Gardy St. Fleur Art Collection.

Sedrick Chisom, The Superstitions of Ahab, who pissed against the wall, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and the Gardy St. Fleur Art Collection.

A native of Haiti and long time Brooklynite, St. Fleur runs his own art consulting firm. His robust collection includes everything from early 20th-century Haitian masters to today’s most promising artists, such as , , and . “Process catches my eye,” he said. “It’s research and about how that artist thinks—how does the artist know their subject? And how well can they explain it? The beauty comes later.” St. Fleur cites ’s community-driven process as one he finds especially interesting. “I love the fact that his process has to do a lot with community and his heritage as a Caribbean person,” he explained. “I love his way of not just making art for himself but also getting people in the community to experience the art.”

A Brooklyn native and founder of Welancora Gallery, Ivy N. Jones began collecting art in her early twenties. Her first acquisition was a small etching of a pietà by painter and sculptor . “The first time I saw it, I was moved by it in a spiritual way,” Jones explained. She’s often attracted to works that are elegant and witty or intelligent in a subtle way. Two of her favorite works from her collection are a white clay sculpture titled Chip on my Shoulder (2017) by and a photo-based work called Buy Bye Bed-Stuy (2019) by photographer . Work that references Black culture and the plight of women of color are also themes woven throughout the works she has purchased.
Aisha Tandiwe Bell, Chip On My Shoulder, 2017. Courtesy of the artist, Welancora Gallery, and Ivy N. Jones.

Aisha Tandiwe Bell, Chip On My Shoulder, 2017. Courtesy of the artist, Welancora Gallery, and Ivy N. Jones.

Otto Neals, Mother and Child, 1972. Courtesy of Ivy N. Jones.

Otto Neals, Mother and Child, 1972. Courtesy of Ivy N. Jones.

As a collector and gallerist, Jones has an in-depth understanding of the contemporary art world, and over the years she has seen how much the art market has evolved. “Purchasing work online didn’t exist when I started collecting, and many artists of color were regional artists,” she said. “There weren’t many auctions of works by artists of color and they weren’t represented by multiple galleries around the world. Within the last 6 to 10 years, the distribution network for art by artists of color has grown by leaps and bounds.”

Shirley and Bernard Kinsey began traveling the world in the 1960s, and along their travels, they began buying art. The Kinsey Collection, which contains over 700 pieces of both artworks and artifacts, sits at the intersection of art and history. “The way to think about the Kinsey Collection is, while we own all of the Black masters that people say you should own, we own them for different reasons,” said Mr. Kinsey. “We own them because they are part of this record, historical record, of artistic achievement and struggle.”
Alma Woodsey Thomas, Untitled, 1924. Courtesy of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection.

Alma Woodsey Thomas, Untitled, 1924. Courtesy of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection.

It was the work of legendary painter that struck a chord with the couple. “We ran across Ernie Barnes’s work and it reminded us of home and things we did growing up,” recalled Mrs. Kinsey. When Mr. Kinsey was an executive at Xerox, he gave out prints of Barnes’s High Aspirations (1971) to top salespeople.
The Kinseys’ strategy was that Mrs. Kinsey would collect the living artists and Mr. Kinsey would collect those that had passed away. They collected works by African American masters like Norman Lewis, , and , and purchased works by often-overlooked Black artists from American history. “We own five of the top six artists that painted in the 19th century,” Mr. Kinsey said. “Most people don’t even know Black people painted in the 19th century.”
Charles White, Folk Singer, 1953. Courtesy of The Kinsey Family Collection.

Charles White, Folk Singer, 1953. Courtesy of The Kinsey Family Collection.

Robert S. Duncanson, Landscape, Autumn, ca. 1865. Courtesy of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection.

Robert S. Duncanson, Landscape, Autumn, ca. 1865. Courtesy of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection.

The Kinsey Collection also has historical texts like Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral and letters from Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Zora Neale Hurston. The couple started acquiring historical articles as a result of realizing their son, Khalil, wasn’t receiving an adequate education on African American history in school. “We have one of the earliest known documents of a young Black girl named Estebana, daughter of an African slave from Spain, who was born in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1595,” said Mr. Kinsey. “The way to think about us is that we have documented the African American story historically from 1595 before Jamestown, before Plymouth Rock, when there were Black people in what we know as the United States.”
Jewels Dodson
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of artist Theresa Chromati.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of collector Frederick Hutson.
Header image, by order of appearance: Turiya Magadlela, “My womb is at fault 11,” 2016. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, and the Scott-Newman Collection; Portrait of Charlotte Newman by Ajani Husbands. Courtesy of Charlotte Newman; Sedrick Chisom, “The Superstitions of Ahab, who pissed against the wall,” 2019. Courtesy of the artist and the Gardy St Fleur Art Collection; Portrait of Gardy St. Fleur by Charlie Rubin. Courtesy of Gardy St. Fleur; Naudline Pierre, “Closer Still,” 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Arthur Lewis; Portrait of Arthur Lewis. Courtesy of UTA; Aisha Tandiwe Bell, “Chip On My Shoulder,” 2017. Courtesy of the artist, Welancora Gallery, and Ivy N. Jones; Portrait of Ivy N. Jones by by Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. Courtesy of Ivy N. Jones.
Thumbnail image, from left to right: Turiya Magadlela, “My womb is at fault 11,” 2016. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, and the Scott-Newman Collection; Portrait of Charlotte Newman by Ajani Husbands. Courtesy of Charlotte Newman; Skye Volmar, “A simulation//Assimilation,” 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Lorenzo Atkinson; Portrait of Lorenzo Atkinson by Chester Vincent Toye. Courtesy of Lorenzo Atkinson.
Portrait of Arthur Lewis. Courtesy of UTA; Portrait of Pamela Joyner by Drew Altizer. Courtesy of Pamela Joyner; Portrait of Rudy Austin by Deborah Liljegren. Courtesy of Rudy Austin; Portrait of Elliot Perry by Lisa Buser. Courtesy of Elliot Perry; Portrait of Charlotte Newman by Ajani Husbands. Courtesy of Charlotte Newman; Portrait of Larry Ossei-Mensah by Aaron Ramey. Courtesy of Larry Ossei-Mensah; Portrait of Bernard Lumpkin by Dawn Blackman. Courtesy of Bernard Lumpkin; Portrait of Phyllis Hollis by Jason Wallace. Courtesy of Phyllis Hollis; Portrait of Jon Gray by Leilani Foster. Courtesy of Jon Gray; Portrait of Denise Gardner at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018. Photo by Jonathan Mathias for The Art Institute of Chicago. Courtesy of Denise Gardner; Portrait of Frederick Hutson. Courtesy of Frederick Hutson; Portrait of Lorenzo Atkinson by Chester Vincent Toye. Courtesy of Lorenzo Atkinson; Portrait of Gardy St. Fleur by Charlie Rubin. Courtesy of Gardy St. Fleur; Portrait of Ivy N. Jones by by Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. Courtesy of Ivy N. Jones; Portrait of Bernard, Shirley, and Khalil Kinsey by Smiley N. Pool. Courtesy of the Kinsey Family.