Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois at Chicago has reopened with “Young, Gifted, and Black,” an exhibition of work from the private collection of Bernard I. Lumpkin and Carmine D. Boccuzzi, curated by Antwaun Sargent and Matt Wycoff. Featuring the work of fifty emerging and established Black artists, the exhibition is an expansive consideration of color, materiality, history and identity. Newcity spoke with Lumpkin to discuss the Chicago iteration of the exhibition, the importance of education in contemporary art, and what it means to support artists.
The exhibition opened at Gallery 400 in September, which is the third venue on a national tour in college galleries, the first two in New York and continuing to Pennsylvania and California. What is the importance of having the exhibition at universities? Are students the primary audience?
I come from a family of teachers, and I was a teacher myself—that was my first job. When I wasn’t teaching, I still wanted my work to be educational and I worked as a television producer at MTV. The audience and the mission of the channel and programming that I worked on was all about educating young people. This was a time when young people weren’t getting their news from CNN or social media, they were getting their news by watching videos. In between music videos, we would do a brief story about an election, a political candidate, foreign relations, any number of things that we would report on. I worked on the “Choose or Lose” and the “Rock the Vote” campaigns, getting young people to vote.
When we were conceiving of this exhibition, I wanted every venue to have robust educational programming connected with the show. Conceptually, it was always about a college tour, “Young, Gifted, and Black,” young artists for young people. These artists aren’t that far off from college, and they are reading the same books, watching the same movies and responding to the same current events that young people are talking, living and breathing. To me, an exhibition can be a classroom and these artists can be teachers.
That’s the amazing thing about mounting these shows where young people can come to their own campus gallery. There, they are seeing these artists who are representing their own lives in a way that probably they haven’t before and in a way that will hopefully change and enlighten them in some way.
The collection has a special emphasis on emerging voices, as part of your broader mission of artist advocacy and institutional support. Can you talk about your support of emerging artists?
When young collectors ask me about building a collection, I tell them all the time: start with a conversation with an artist or gallery, acquire the work, but then quickly take that to other levels of engagement and support. Whether that means joining a museum committee to support artists in an institutional context, partnering with the artist on an independent project, advising them on any aspect of their career, connecting them with curators, dealers, other collectors, with other artists.
A lot of the artists I speak with are at the beginning of their careers and they are navigating a lot. I help them in the way that I can, but frequently I’m telling them to talk to another artist, someone who is perhaps more experienced, has been through what they are going through and is a good mentor figure. There are several artists who do that who come to mind: Rashid Johnson, Derek Fordjour and Jordan Casteel. When there’s a lot of attention, a lot of offers, and a lot being asked of artists of color, it helps to have established artists to navigate that. I point to these artists who are not only being artists, but they are citizens of the art world and are themselves patrons. They are advising, mentoring and giving back to the community directly through organizations, such as Kehinde Wiley’s Black Rock Senegal residency and Titus Kaphar with NXTHVN. These are artists who are taking ownership of the means of production and giving artists a more direct hand in learning skills that they need, as well as developing their work and their careers.
Are there new works in the collection that have been added to the exhibition in Chicago?
The collection is organic and growing and changing with new artists. One artist that comes to mind is Chase Hall, an artist I met at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture. He’s someone I’ve been in dialogue with who I think will become one of these mentor artists in the mold of Titus Kaphar or Mark Bradford. He makes very interesting paintings, which to me are simultaneously very personal while also being very historical. He tackles myth—American myths like John Henry—or specific moments in American or Black American history, but then he inscribes them in a very personalized context and setting, frequently dealing with familial relationships, such as fathers and sons. Another interesting investigation he has done is a series of portraits of jazz musicians, one of which is a new addition to the exhibition, a painting of Eric Dolphy.
“Young, Gifted, and Black: The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art” is on view through December 11 at Gallery 400, 400 South Peoria.