To be a Black art collector is to stand on the shoulders of a proud lineage. Throughout history, Black patrons have supported Black artists when nobody else did.
Bernard Lumpkina New York City-based art patron, educator and philanthropistis proud to continue this legacy as his exhibition, "Young, Gifted and Black: The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art," embarks on a national tour. Accompanied by a book of the same name, the exhibition is currently on display at Gallery 400, at the University of Illinois Chicago.
The title itself honors the lineage of Black artists. Lumpkin was reminded of the phrase when he watched actor Chadwick Boseman accept a 2019 SAG award for the film Black Panther."Boseman began his speech: "To be young, gifted and Black. We all know what it's like to be told that there is not a place for you to be featured. Yet you are young, gifted and Black."
The opening phrase, borrowed from singer Nina Simone and playwright Lorraine Hansberry, encapsulated the exhibition's message, Lumpkin said. The book and the exhibition were in place, and he and the curators were brainstorming titles. "That title, at some point, just landedand just stuck. And I'm glad that people have embraced it," Lumpkin said.
"Young, Gifted and Black" is the first stand-alone exhibition to emerge from the private collection Lumpkin has built with his husband, Carmine Boccuzzi, for 15 years. Writer and critic Antwaun Sargent curated the exhibition alongside artist Matt Wycoff from the collection's more than 400 works of contemporary artists of African descent.
Sargent, whom Lumpkin had known as an authority on Black visual art and culture, was new to Lumpkin's collection, whereas Wycoff had worked closely with Lumpkin for 10 years. Working together, Lumpkin said, they "were able to present a vision which was both refreshing and also very knowledgeable."
The exhibition includes the work of 50 artists and is structured around four themes: Black, Color, Portraiture and Materiality. At Gallery 400, these themes are not separated but intertwined. Lorelei Stewart, director of Gallery 400, explained that the gallery mixed the themes intentionally, as they were given creative freedom when installing the exhibition.
While the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection holds mostly artwork from the past decade, "Young, Gifted and Black" showcases two successive generations of Black artists. The intergenerational dialogue is central to the conversation the curators put forth with the artwork. In his essay "In Color, On the Land," Wycoff notes that the older generation "is presented as both lineage and foil for the younger; while the younger generation is presented as the fruit of the older generation's struggle for equal representation."
Lumpkin included two generations to emphasize that young Black artists today are working within a tradition of Black art. This tradition includes Black patronage. "I'm always thankful and grateful for the shoulders that I'm standing on as a collector," Lumpkin said.
Before he was a collector, Lumpkin produced educational programming about social issues at MTV News for a decade. Many of these programs revolved around artists, prompting Lumpkin to consider how artists inspire and empower young people.
But it wasn't until 2009, when his father died, that Lumpkin began to re-evaluate the private collection he had been building with Boccuzzi for some years. That year, Lumpkin also left MTV to dedicate himself to the collection, focusing it on young artists of African descent.
Education and social activism, two values Lumpkin learned from his parents, drive his collecting ethos. This includes advocating for the young artists from whom he buys pieces; Lumpkin helps them to both build personal relationships and connect with professional networks. He also supports institutions that also support the artists.
Gallery 400 is consequently one of many university stops on the tour. "I think it's really important for young people to listen to [these artists] in the same way that they would listen to their favorite authors, or a movie, or their favorite musicians," Lumpkin said. "These visual artists have a lot to say to young people about the world we live in now, and what the world can hopefully look like in the future."
Art classes from UIC have visited the gallery to discuss and analyze the art, according to Stewart. Gallery 400, through the efforts of Public Programs Manager Denis Mwaura, has coordinated six educational public programs that place "Young, Gifted and Black" artists in dialogue with Chicago-based artists and scholars. For example, in September, Gallery 400 hosted a discussion with artist Jacolby Satterwhite about how queer desire and Black male desire are represented in his nine-minute exhibition video, "Reifying Desire 5."
Lumpkin finds himself educating through his collection in private as well as in public. Sometimes people don't realize Lumpkin himself is Black and queer until a conversation about the artwork reveals it.
"It's a lot about letting people know, this is who I am, this is my family, this is who I come from, this is my heritage. And also for my children, it's about reminding them who they are, where they come from, what their roots are. And I'm very grateful to be able to express a part of myself in that way," Lumpkin said.
Lumpkin views the concept of "Young, Gifted and Black" as specific, but also timeless. It not only applies to artists, but to curators, museums, exhibitions, and art educators. Lumpkin believes the phrase took on extra meaning during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and 2021.
"Young, gifted and Black is about a movement. It's a movement in the art world and it's a movement in the larger world to acknowledge, to support and celebrate Black talent in all of its forms," he said.
After concluding its Chicago run, "Young, Gifted and Black" will visit five more university venues across America through 2023. The exhibition is available to view at Gallery 400, at 400 S. Peoria St., through Dec. 11. Admission is free. For more information, visit gallery400.uic.edu/exhibition/young-gifted-and-black-the-lumpkin-boccuzzi-family-collection-of-contemporary-art/.