On Saturday, September 21, 2019, Diasporal Rhythms presented a panel of stellar artists and a gallerist to explore the renaissance of interest in Black Art. After decades of indifference to tepid attention, a legitimate market of African American art is possible. For years, HBCUs and collectors of African American art have sustained the careers of Black artists and have served as historical collectors of artistic visual chronicles of the narrative of black people. As with our presenters, Diasporal Rhythm collectors have collected their art, or supported their endeavors, because they are exceptional artists.
The mainstream art market of the 1990s allowed non-white artists into their institutions in larger numbers. “Outsiders are in.” Black Art themes of empowerment, black pride, and black aesthetics have always been around, but now, they were just observed in a new light. When Kara Walker could command $400,000 by 2007 for pickaninnies, sexual images and black stereotypes, the parallel was not drawn between the plastic mammies that were salt and pepper shakers, and covered boxes of commodities. Those mammies were typecasting of the desexualized images who served her master in perpetuity, wearing a bandanna to protect the myth that white men did not find her attractive. Holding cleaning utensils, these images were collectables in many white households growing in popularity during the Jim Crow era.
There has definitely been a paradigm shift in the mission of art museums around the country. While the majority of art museum goers are still white, the artists’ renderings inside are slowly changing. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts included in its 2015 Strategic Plan, a goal to become a leader in the field of African American art. They have subsequently acquired 350 pieces of African American Art. The Ogden Museum of Southern art, since its inception, in 2003, included African American artists in its permanent collection, and frequently highlights Black Artists in its programming. Yet, as of 2000, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston only had 3 paintings by African American artists.
Ironically, with the unveiling of the Obama presidential portraits by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, it became apparent to the mainstream art market that Black artists have been prolific for a long time. The Black community has been collecting viable black art for years. Thank Heavens for the Collector!
Africobra art shifted the eye of the enlightened art world to view dynamic geometric abstractions combined with realistic imagery expressing rhythm as a new element of art, fusing with color and line to emerge as a new style. It was noticed, Big Time!
The prices of Nigerian artists have increased ten-fold since 2008. Artist/Gallerist Andre Guichard can certainly attest to this popularity as in a recent show he hosted at his gallery featuring prominent Nigerian artists, the crowd of art lovers wended and weaved around the block.
As Art Smart progressed, Dan Parker, collector extraordinaire, was excellent as the moderator, keeping everyone on point. Why is Black Art emerging as the newest hot item? As the co-founder of Diasporal Rhythms, Dan is immersed in the world of art as a collector and as an educator, lecturer, and author. To hear him speak about collecting art, one understands his statement, “It is a fire in my belly, the flame in my heart, and a burning in my soul.” His energy alone has enlightened people to the incredible culture of people of African descent.
In conversation with the other panelists, Mr. Guichard acknowledged the role Dan Parker had played as a mentor and a supporter of his growing talent. He discussed the uniqueness of the African American and African artists’ styles and the continual need to seek buyers. It is a complex issue to manage the variables as an artist of producing impeccable work and marketing sales in order to continue to produce. Now as a gallerist, he knows that he can depend on members of Diasporal Rhythms to support his endeavors.
Russell Harris concurred with this observation and noted that the artist must control his own market. Mr. Harris was almost metaphysical in his analysis as he referred to the importance in being intentional and following your personal marketing model to handle the economy of your art. Be your best even if the market is not ready for you. Keep producing, was his advice. Mr. Harris has definitely followed his own advice as he is a versatile artist, teacher, and continuous student of his craft. His excellence as an artist was demonstrated in a brief slide show which profiled a few of his pieces which he referred to as transitional pieces moving from traditional to contemporary art. His portraits are polished. Some of his finished products are represented as photo-realism while others are figurative. Many of his paintings made social statements inspired by historical incidences, such as Michael Brown, and Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and the Tuskegee Airmen. He is an accomplished, polished artist.
He expressed a strong desire to perfect his craft and inspire others. He noted that the artist is constantly juxtaposed as a creator and a business person, therefore he must exercise control over his market. He too, is fervently supported by Diasporal Rhythms. Not only is his art a part of some collections, he has appeared as a lecturer and an exhibited in more than one Diasporal Rhythm events.
Amanda Williams noted the importance of picking and choosing who buys and collects your art. She emphasized that Black art was undervalued for a long time. Black Art is now desired and purchased by the main stream art market. Ms. Williams observations were both metaphorical and literal just as her finished art projects on display in multiple museums are substantial allegories. Displayed at MCA are Williams’ installations of shadow boxes containing laser-cut maps of Chicago neighborhood streets, with overlays of maps of Iraq in a visual parody of the term “Chiraq.” She makes ingenious social statements in her art projects, as exemplified in her painting of abandoned houses in forgotten neighborhoods using bold colors that cannot be missed by the ordinary eye.
Talmadge Mason, a collector, observed that the art market ebbs and flows.
In conclusion, Mr. Guichard, professed profound truisms. Art is love. One cannot assume what is the proper choice in selecting art as the collector. One should buy what one loves. He stated that in his early years, he didn’t understand his relationship to Africa. In his maturity, he does. He advocated that collectors should communicate with collectors in other cities and to promote artists of the diaspora. Expand the concept. Pass the torch.
Diasporal Rhythms could employ “EXPAND THE CONCEPT. PASS THE TORCH!” as it’s mantra. It is a practice and a passion of this group of collectors to reach out to artists and collectors in other cities. It wants to realize the adoption of its brand in the world of Black Art. Through continuous seminars and visits to other cities to visit artists and collectors, DR is expanding the concept and passing the torch.
All images © Copyright Tony Smith.