At Large  December 17, 2020  Paul Laster

Young, Gifted and Black: A New Generation of Artists

© Tunji Adeniyi-Jones

Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Blue Dancer, 2017.

Spotlighting a selection of artworks in the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art, created over the past decade by a talented array of emerging Black artists, the coffee table tome Young, Gifted and Black: A New Generation of Artists is a must-have monograph for anyone interested in assembling—or simply appreciating—a momentous art collection.

Young, Gifted and Black: A New Generation of Artists
The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art. Edited by Antwaun Sargent. Published by D.A.P.

Providing insight into the inspiration for former MTV News producer Bernard Lumpkin’s creation of the collection with his husband, lawyer Carmine Boccuzzi, the 256-page book, which was edited by writer and independent curator Antwaun Sargent, highlights the work of more than forty contemporary artists of color from America and the African diaspora while commenting on Black artists who preceded and paved the way for them.

Taking its title from the lyrics of an eponymous Nina Simone song, the tome and accompanying fifty-piece traveling exhibition, which is currently on view at New York’s Lehman College Art Gallery, offer an overview of some of the most influential art being made in the present moment, which has been—and continues to be—a highly tumultuous time. 

Focused on Black identity, politics, and art history, the works in the collection were acquired by both Lumpkin and Boccuzzi, but it’s the former, whose father was an African-American physicist from Watts and mother a Sephardic Jew from Morocco, who assumes the role of ambassador for the collection, which includes more than 400 paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos, drawings, and prints.

Deborah Yasinsky

Installation view of Young Gifted, and Black at Lehman College Art Gallery, February 8 through December 31, 2020.

A trustee at the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and member of the Painting and Sculpture Committee at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Media and Performance Art Committee at the Museum of Modern Art, Lumpkin decided to direct their art collecting towards his mixed heritage and artists of African descent after his father’s death in 2009.

“My mission-driven approach to collecting has been shaped by three different things—my previous career as a news producer at MTV; my parents, who taught me the importance of education and civic engagement; and my mixed ethnic and racial background," Lumpkin recently shared in an Aesthetica Magazine interview. “I’m interested in the questions artists of color are asking about race, history, and what it means to be American today.

© Kara Walker

Kara Walker, Untitled, 1995.

An intergenerational collection, it includes works by such venerable Black artists as Ed Clark, Norman Lewis, and Jack Whitten; blue-chip creatives like Derrick Adams, Mark Bradford, Ellen Gallagher, David Hammons, Pope. L, Mickalene Thomas, and Kara Walker; and a powerful pack of rising stars, including Kevin Beasley, Jordan Casteel, Derek Fordjour, Tomashi Jackson, Christina Quarles, Jacolby Satterwhite, and Vaughn Spann. 

Standout pieces in the plates of artworks are Tunji Adeniyi-Jones' paintings of exotic figures in nature and monotypes of sensual nudes; Casteel’s haunting canvases of nude black males in interior settings; Eric N. Mack’s assembled abstractions on found pieces of fabric; Quarles trippy paintings of stretched out bodies and mashed together people; and Spann’s vibrant still life painting on paper, his edgy abstraction on canvas, and a pastoral portrait of a muscular, two-headed black youth, who’s stuck in a field, that’s rendered with paint on a wood panel.

© Vaughn Spann, Courtesy Martin Parsekian / Half Gallery

Vaughn Spann, Staring back at you, rooted and unwavering, 2018.

Accompanying the art reproductions, MoMA Media and Performance Curator Thomas J. Lax talks about Satterwhite’s 2013 sci-fi video Reifying Desire 5; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Curator Lauren Haynes reviews Jennifer Packer’s expressive portraits, still lives, and interior scenes; Studio Museum of Harlem Associate Curator Connie H. Choi discusses Brenna Youngblood’s abstract works in assemblage; and a number of artists in the collection, including Beasley, Jackson, and Lawson, pen texts on their own works. 

Sargent, who also co-curated the traveling exhibition with artist and writer Matt Wycoff, discusses Lumpkin and Boccuzzi’s goal of cultivating community and creating conversations about race, equality, and history, while championing the work of young black artists. Highlighting the duo’s role of providing mentorship and communal networks that encourage experimentation, he points to the collection’s acquisition of three paintings by Casteel, who currently has a survey show of her fascinating figurative paintings on view at New York’s hip New Museum.

© Tomashi Jackson, Courtesy the artist and Tilton Gallery, New York

Tomashi Jackson, Still Remains, 2018.

In another essay, Jessica Bell Brown, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art, addresses two interwoven frameworks of the collection: a commitment to supporting legions of black emerging artists and a linking of those artists to their creative predecessors. Drawing parallels between LaToya Ruby Frazier’s 2008 photographic portrait of the artist and her mother in rust-belt Pennsylvania and D’Angelo Lovell William’s 2019 photographic self-portrait of the artist and his mother connected by a strand of gum between their mouths, Brown reveals how a metaphoric baton of social consciousness is passed from one generation to the next.

© Derrick Adams

Derrick Adams, The Great Wall, 2009.

Finally, closing out the book, Lumpkin and Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, sit down to converse about collecting in the moment and the lineage of celebrated black collectors, both past and present. Golden states that she sees her role of director as one of “creating space for artists’ ideas,” while Lumpkin sees collecting art as a “communal and collaborative endeavor,” where “it’s not so much about acquiring and sequestering the art but about sharing it with others.”

About the Author

Paul Laster

Paul Laster is an artist, critic, curator, editor, and lecturer. He is a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Galerie Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Architectural Digest, Cultured, Garage Magazine, Ocula, ArtPulse, Observer, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was Artkrush’s founding editor, started The Daily Beast's art section and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ Oneworld Magazine, as well as an Adjunct Curator of Photography at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.

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