Jessica Lynne, Writer & Curator

Jessica Lynne, Writer & Curator
19 April 2014 Jessica Lynne

Jessica Lynne, Journalist

Of all the paintings in the world, there is one that matters to me most. An acrylic on canvas framed in pink. The painting, a gift from my aunt, was a birthday present. More emphatically, my birth day present – a gift to celebrate my arrival into this world.

In the painting’s background, an elegantly dressed gentleman tails an equally stylish woman who is much closer in the foreground. Clad in wide brimmed hats and what appears to be expertly tailored coats, the image is a noble mix of pastels that calls to mind photos of black folks during the Harlem Renaissance.

Growing up, my mother kept this painting hidden, protecting it, she would say. As long as I have it, you’ll never damage it, she would say. So hidden it remained as I graduated high school and left home, as I moved into my own place during college, as I traveled abroad.

I was always careful about checking up though. You haven’t tossed my painting out have you, I would ask my mom in annoyance. And when the time was right, the painting finally made its way to my Brooklyn living room.

I do not know how much the painting is worth. Foolishly, I have never asked my aunt from whom it was purchased or for how much. But I have asked her why, to which she has always replied, “It was a gift meant to start your collection.”

So, the painting does not merely hang in my living room. It is mounted proudly in my living room.

My parents were not art collectors. Neither were their parents. And truthfully, my aunt and I rarely even talk about art.

It was not until I worked at an auction house that I began to understand the seriousness of collecting and ultimately, the art market at large.

From weeklong previews highlighting the best of contemporary art to frenzied auctions offering the must haves from the impressionist period, my auction house stint was a plunge into an art world beyond museum walls.

Collecting art was indeed a thing and not an act solely defined by cool aunts and newborn nieces. It was an experience I was certain I wanted for myself.

However, it didn’t take long to notice the whiteness of it all.

Works by artists of color were often featured in many of the auctions – the Basquiats, the Mutus, the Ringgolds. What was missing, what still is missing, are the black and brown faces behind the scenes – as specialists, as client service reps and in particular, as collectors.

When I did have the pleasure of meeting collectors of color, they were often older, seasoned collectors, long accustomed to the art world’s messy politics.

It was not until I worked at an auction house that I began to understand the seriousness of collecting and ultimately, the art market at large.

As a young black woman committed to collecting, I would be lying if I said that I haven’t been discouraged. It is hard enough working in the arts let alone trying to scrape enough capital together to acquire art.

Yet, this is why I am excited about places like the Warehouse Gallery run by Kamau and Lesley Ware. With no work in their gallery costing more than $500, it is a great space for younger patrons to ease their way into collecting sans the intimidation factor and the stress of a hefty price tag.

At this point, I’m not quite sure what my second piece of art will be. I only know that, thanks to my aunt and a crash course lesson in auctions, the proverbial door has been opened and I intend to walk though in my fiercest strut.

Collecting should take time as one’s taste and interests grow and expand but if desired, it should be an accessible space for all So, if you have any recommendations I’m all ears. My prized painting desperately needs a companion piece.

Jessica Lynne is a Brooklyn based writer and independent curator. She received her BA in Africana Studies from NYU. She has been awarded residencies and fellowships from The Sarah Lawrence College Summer Writers Seminar, Callaloo, and The Center for Book Arts. She currently serves as the development manager for 651 ARTS, a Brooklyn based performing arts organization. She’s also one-third of the Zora Magazine editorial team.

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