How 9 Black Collectors Are Changing the Art World, Starting at Home

And join committees! It’s relatively inexpensive as a young collector. All these museums have youth groups with particular prices for those under 40 and they hold lots of events for those groups, because they are cultivating the future collectors. When you meet an artist, ask them, “Who are the artists you would recommend that I look at?” Also, the internet now [makes it] so easy; look at all the artists you can get your hands on, and figure out what you like. Go to art fairs. For a young collector, the main art fairs are daunting. Everything’s ridiculously expensive. But they’re worth going to, to see what’s out there. Go to the smaller fairs too. One of my favorite small fairs is Untitled, in Miami, it’s great. It’s smaller galleries and oftentimes more emerging artists, so you can discover new people.

Elliot Perry

In the summer of 1996, Charles Barkley took a group of NBA players that included Elliot Perry over to Japan. For 17 hours there, and the 17 hours on the way back, former player and then coach Darrell Walker sat beside Perry and jumpstarted his interest in the arts. “I really didn’t know anything, I just listened,” Perry, who played for the Memphis Grizzlies, Orlando Magic, and Phoenix Suns, tells AD. “And when I got back in the States and that season started, he would always say, ‘Hey, I see you’ll be in New York, or you’ll be in Boston, or LA, or wherever—go to this show, go to this artist’s studio.’”

For about a year, Perry did as he was coached. He felt like an amateur, but he was a voracious student, reading lots of catalogs, books, and looking at as much artwork as he could. One particular show by Walter Evans, MD, in Little Rock, Arkansas, set him on a determined course from art appreciator to collector: “I wanted to collect at that level. It jarred me into [my role] today, into thinking that this is what I was going to do for the next 30, 40 years.”

The Elliot and Kimberly Perry Collection (named for Perry and his wife) consists of between 250 and 260 pieces, at the moment. The nearly 30 years since he began his journey have been marked by a sea change in the broader industry’s appetite for Black artistry, and for Perry, witnessing the artists featured in his collection get their due is “the icing on the cake”—i.e., cool, but not the cake. “That’s just a part of the art world, it’s all about validation and who says what and who validates the work,” he says. “We’ve never really gotten caught up in that, which is why our mission now is collecting a lot of these artists at the beginning of their careers. We always tell an artist that we see value in your work right now.”

AD: What kinds of pieces do you gravitate toward?

Elliot Perry: In 2004, we did a one-eighty and only started collecting living contemporary artists, and many of those artists were emerging. That’s where our sweet spot is and we feel really comfortable. The works that we’re living with now, a lot of them are good friends of mine: Rashid Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, Titus Kaphar. Those are some of my favorite works. Theaster Gates is another friend, Mickalene Thomas was one of the first artists we reached out to when we made the switch to collecting only emerging contemporary artists. Torkwase Dyson is another favorite, of course, and we really love Lynette Boakye.

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