In just over 16 years, Elliot Perry has amassed a compelling collection of modern and contemporary works of art by African American artists alongside artists of African descent. It is a rare feat to find a collector, a former NBA player and point guard with teams such as Memphis Grizzlies, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns, starting his art collecting journey through his extensive travels from coast to coast and city to city while still a professional athlete.
Interestingly, for the Memphis native it was an initial meeting with NBA coach Darrell Walker, which introduced him to his now passion for art. Perry and his wife Kimberly began with mid-to late 20th century African American art in 1996 — their first purchase was a print by artist Paul Goodnight — and in ensuing years turned their focus to contemporary art. The couple have accumulated a voluminous art collection documenting a powerful visual narrative of the African American experience, both socially and historically.
“The purpose and motivation of our collection is to encourage dialogue”, says Elliot Perry, “while also creating a platform for inquiry and exploration … as collectors we aim to compile works that allow for the convergence of these voices and the conversations that they instigate.”
Hank Willis Thomas, Basketball and Chain, 2003, Lambda photograph. Collection of Elliot and Kimberly Perry. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Kerry James Marshall, Nat Turner Appeared in a Water Stain, 1990, charcoal on wood. Collection of Elliot and Kimberly Perry. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Each work is a show stopper, with Kerry James Marshall’s breathtaking Nat Turner Appeared in a Water Stain (1990), crafted with charcoal on wood, to Carrie Mae Weems‘ magical trio of red-tinted prints from her spectacular series, From here I saw what happened and I cried (1995-96); even the show’s pairing of Glenn Ligon‘s seminal, Untitled (Negro Sunshine) neon from 2005, with his Flag and Target in Hat (2004), a mixed-media work composed of a framed flag-like felt piece, alongside a modified Dr Seuss hat, is wholly prodigious.
It is a pleasure to see visual artist Lauren Kelley’s imaginative and original animated video, Big Gurl (2006) highlighting the concerns surrounding femininity and race featured in the exhibition, moreover, current rising star and one of this year’s artists-in-residence at New York’s Studio Harlem, Abigail DeVille’s recycled canvas installation, Grid (2010) is displayed sublimely oozing with latex paint, enamel paint, paper, tape and with a TV on the floor.
Abigail DeVille, Grid, 2010, recycled canvas, latex paint, enamel paint, paper, tape, T.V.. Collection of Elliot and Kimberly Perry. Courtesy of the artist
Selfishly,I long for it to be one day housed in one public space, following the paths of mega-collectors such as Don and Meera Rubell, Eugenio López Alonso or Dakis Joannou, where it can be seen and viewed by the local population.
Perry adds, “Our enthusiasm for African American art is not simply about building a collection; it is our way of documenting and preserving African American culture of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”
Bomi Odufunade is a writer and consultant at Dash & Rallo Art Advisory, an international consultancy specialising mainly in contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. She advises on all aspects of establishing and building art collections, providing art consulting services for private art collectors and corporations. Her writings on art and the art market have appeared in a variety of publications. Previously, she worked at Thames & Hudson, Tate Modern and Haunch of Venison gallery in London. She is based between Paris, London and New York.