Around 2012, the North Carolina–based fashion entrepreneur James Whitner felt his first pull to collect art. He bought four four-foot
sculptures in an online auction. And he never looked back. In the years since, Whitner has been surrounding himself and others with a formidable contemporary art collection.
Whitner is the founder and CEO of The Whitaker Group, which runs multiple fashion brands such as Social Status and A Ma Maniére (the latter of which is releasing a new, highly anticipated Air Jordan 3 collaboration
on April 21st), as well as boutique hotels, a restaurant, and community-based social impact projects. Last year, Whitner collaborated with esteemed artist
on a custom Chuck Taylor sneaker; the project tapped into salient contemporary issues including Black Lives Matter, LBGTQ+ rights, and the 2020 presidential election. The design even attracted Vice President Kamala Harris, who visited Whitner’s Social Status store in Charlotte, North Carolina, while on the campaign trail to preview Abney’s sneaker.
Whitner sees his engagement with contemporary art as curating more than collecting. “I’m curating how I want to visualize my life and how I want others to see my world,” he said. That impulse has led him to build a collection that quickly outgrew the walls of his home and office, and to begin curating external spaces, too. He’s brought art into his retail and lifestyle properties, as well as community projects and a forthcoming gallery space in Pittsburgh.
While his earliest purchases included popular street art and works by buzzy contemporary artists, over time, Whitner found that the art that meant the most to him was being made by artists who were not yet well known—so he committed himself to supporting rising talent and sharing their work with others. Nowadays, he’s living with works by Julian Gaines (a.k.a. Ju Working), Nina Chanel Abney,
, and others. Ultimately, Whitner’s collection retains an ethos that resonates with the masses while still encapsulating his own authentic take on contemporary art.
I recently caught up with Whitner at his Charlotte home to learn more about how he started collecting, the art on his walls, bringing art to communities, and what it means to be supporting emerging artists.
Charles Moore: How and when did you start collecting art?
James Whitner: In 2012 and 2013, I was mulling over the idea of collecting. The first thing I bought was a set of KAWS four-footers. I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t have a mentor who collects art or anyone who’s into this. I work in isolation and there’s no one I can really bounce my ideas off of.