Gallery View: ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ matters at Lehigh University
Selections from the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art showcase Black culture and creativity in “Young, Gifted and Black,” through May 27, Main Gallery, Lehigh University Art Galleries (LUAG), Zoellner Arts Center.
The collection, owned by former MTV executive Bernard Lumpkin, takes its name from “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” a song recorded by Nina Simone in 1969.
The traveling exhibition has more than 50 works by emerging artists and established artists, all of African descent. The works include oils, acrylics, photographic prints, fabric art, collages, mixed media and sculpture.
Writer Antwaun Sargent and artist Matt Wycoff were guest curators, assisted by LUAG curator Mark Wonsidler.
Chase Hall’s “Eric Dolphy” (2020; acrylic and coffee on cotton canvas, 20 in x 16 in.) is one of several works that Lumpkin and Wonsidler discussed.
“Music is also an important part of Black culture and Black history,” said Lumpkin, gesturing toward the contemporary portrait of American jazz multi-instrumentalist Eric Allan Dolphy Jr. (1928 - 1964). “Giving over the space of the canvas to another artist,” said Lumpkin, was a signature aspect of the painter’s work.
Wonsidler pointed out that coffee was used in coloring the background around the musician’s head.
The pair also spoke about Philadelphia-based artist Wilmer Wilson IV’s “Pres” (2017; staples and pigment print on wood, 96 in. x 48 in. x 1.5 in.). A large print of two men in casual wear is under a thick layer of more than 10,000 staples attaching it to a plywood sheet. Only their hands and the plastic cups they hold are exposed.
Kevin Beasley’s “Wrong” (2013; resin, body pillows. T-shirt, and hooded sweatshirt, 30 in. x 25 in. x 20 in.) is an all-black mixed media sculpture deliberately left on the gallery floor, instead of a pedestal. Trash found along the road? A discarded body? Lumpkin, Wonsidler and attendees at the Feb. 1 LUAG preview, pondered the meanings behind the ambiguous piece.
“Untitled,” (1995; paper collage on paper, 52 in. x 60.375 in.) by Kara Walker had graced the playroom wall at the lower Manhattan apartment of Lumpkin, husband Carmine Boccuzzi and their children. “Of course, she’s referencing antebellum southern depictions of Black people’s relationships in the plantation community,” said Lumpkin about the black silhouette of a Pickaninny-like girl with a pig. Interpretation is open-ended. Is it playful or is there something darker going on?
“My parents were teachers,” said Lumpkin, “I have always seen the role of an art collector as one of education, advocacy and patronage.”
With the 2009 death of his African-American father, Lumpkin left MTV’s news and documentaries division to collect artwork that reflected his dad’s African heritage. His mother was a Sephardic Jew from Morocco.
Lumpkin, Yale-educated and a Harvard Ph.D. graduate, is heavily involved with New York’s top art institutions as a trustee, advisor, committee member and arts patron.
The exhibit is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Lehigh University’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity and Africana Studies and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“Young, Gifted and Black,” through May 27, Main Gallery, Lehigh University Art Galleries, Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University, 420 E. Packer Avenue, Bethlehem. Gallery hours: 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. Tuesday, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Wednesday - Friday, 1 - 5 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday - Monday. https://luag.lehigh.edu/ ; 610-758-3615