Young, Gifted and Black — The Book and the Art — Subject of Talk

If you missed this discussion, this blog written by Michelle Villagomez, News and Media Relations Intern, gives a synopsis and preview of a later exhibition.

Art Collector Bernard Lumpkin explained why he took on the role as a patron and collector of Black art in a virtual event hosted last month by the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis. 

“For me, it’s no fun and no purpose and no spirit if you’re not doing this with the idea that you’re in some way helping people understand their lives — helping people understand the world better,” Lumpkin said. 

He made his comments in a conversation and book launch for Young, Gifted, and Black: A New Generation of Artists, The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art, (Distributed Art Publishers, September 2020).

“I feel that that is the spirit of the collection, of the book, and of my service to art institutions.”  — Lumpkin

More than 100 people tuned into this remote talk Oct. 29 to discuss the book Young, Gifted, and Black: A New Generation of Artists and its accompanying exhibition set to travel to Manetti Shrem Museum in 2022. Joining Lumpkin was the book’s author, Antwaun Sargent, and curator of Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection; Matt Wycoff, curator, artist, writer, and designer; and Susie Kantor, associate curator at the Manetti Shrem. The presentation is part of a series of talks being offered this fall at UC Davis.

The book, Lumpkin told the audience, is essentially a conversation among the patron (Lumpkin), artists — such as photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier, and writer/artist Claudia Rankine, who is on the reading list for the exhibition —  curators, and writers that aims to diverge from the confines of institutional art. 

Young, Gifted, and Black is a survey of work of a new generation of Black artists. It has been described as providing contemporary artists of African descent the visibility they have lacked in the art world. The book discusses, debates and shows the work of Black artists. The exhibition brings this collection of works from the private walls of Lumpkin’s home to the public walls of many university museums. 

Museums as institutions that create art history

Manetti’s Shrem’s Kantor acknowledged that museums play a pivotal role in deciding what constitutes art history, and therefore, have a responsibility to represent all artists, not just the art that fits the historical canon

“Maybe art history isn’t made on people’s private walls but it is preserved on their walls. And I think that distinction is important,” Sargent told the audience. 

Wycoff warned of the danger of seeing Black artists create great work and people believing that this art is just emerging. 

In the conversation, both Lumpkin and Sargent spoke of American author Gloria Jean Watkins — better known by her pen name “bell hooks.” The preservation of Black art in the homes of Black people has been happening for generations. Bell hooks’ essay from 1995 describes the importance of an exhibition such as Young, Gifted, and Black that brings visibility to Black art: 

“Black folks may not identify with art due to an absence of representation. Many of us do not know that Black folks create diverse art, and we may not see them doing it, especially if we live in working-class or underclass households. Or art (both the product and the process of creation) may be so devalued—not just in underclass communities, but in diverse black contexts, and, to some extent, in our society as a whole — that we may deem art irrelevant even if it is abundantly in our midst.”

-bell hooks’ essay,  Art on My Mind: Visual Politics 

The essence of Young, Gifted, and Black

Young, Gifted and Black is more than just the name of the book and an exhibition that holds the collection of the Lumpkin-Bocuzzi Family, Sargent stressed. “Making a provocative statement like ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ allows for others to be seen in that statement.”

Sargent explained that the show is for the visibility of all generations, not just the young. It is for those that have been given the term “gifted” by the art world as much as those whose work has been kept from the museum walls. This exhibition is for all the other histories that have not been told, as much as it is for the artists of African descent. 

Sargent urged the audience to hold institutions accountable and demand more representation of all art including art from Black artists. What Lumpkin, Wycoff, and Sargent aim to do with the book release of Young, Gifted, and Black can be understood in the words of Sargent, “Hopefully what makes this different is that if we are able to use this as a moment of transformation, it won’t just be a moment.”

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