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Discovering a New Harlem Underground - Part II

Discovering a New Harlem Underground - Part II

written by Dion Warrick

For part II of the interview, we rolled to Yale Art School in New Haven for Open Studios, an annual event where MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) students open their workspaces to the public and showcase whatever they're working on—including paint, print, light, sound design, photography, sculpture and more. While there we talked about building rapport with galleries and artists, as well as friendly competition between collectors.

  Photography by Rayon RIchards     READ PART 1 NOW    where Michael Lackwood, Larry Ossei-Mensah and Ayesha Williams, co-founders of a word-of-mouth art meetup, held in their homes, bring together emerging POC artists and young professionals of color interested in collecting. Learn how the trio has become their friends’ way in to the sometimes intimidating art scene.

Photography by Rayon RIchards

READ PART 1 NOW where Michael Lackwood, Larry Ossei-Mensah and Ayesha Williams, co-founders of a word-of-mouth art meetup, held in their homes, bring together emerging POC artists and young professionals of color interested in collecting. Learn how the trio has become their friends’ way in to the sometimes intimidating art scene.

INTERVIEW PART 2

D: How do you establish friendships with artists when visiting Yale or other MFA programs?

LARRY: In making friends with artists, you’re looking for that “little thing” [that’s important to you]. For me, it’s not always the work. An artist like Shikeith is just out here to get it, period. That’s always gonna intrigue me. Because the reality is there’s an ebb and flow in the career of an artist, when they hit a down moment. So I’m looking for that hustle. Like Natalie Ball. She has kids, the oldest one’s a teenager and she grew up on the [reservation]. I’m attracted to that hustle because it reflects my experience growing up in New York, so I’ma do whatever it takes to support her. We came here a month ago and Vaughn Spann had two pieces, now I hear has 5, so that already tells me he’s in the studio jamming. And he’s married with a kid so it’s like, he’s got mouths to feed. So you wanna find some of those artists. But then you also wanna find people that are just savants.

D: What’s your experience been as a young Black collector?

MICHAEL: It hasn’t been bad. For me, it was a challenge to understand how the market worked. Then becoming friends with the galleries. But it’s been great building rapport with associate directors and gallery owners and then making myself known as a buyer. It’s a gradual process. It’s not overnight. You have to build that rapport, so that if something good is coming out they think of you.

Photography by Rayon Richards

D: Was that also your approach to collecting?

LARRY: For me it was about writing about the artist. Toyin Ojih Odutola, Yinka Shonibare, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Kehinde Wiley, Mickalene Thomas and Rashid Johnson. Writing about them gave me one-on-one access I wouldn’t have gotten if I just was like, “hey I like your work.”

I mean I think we’re kind of unusual in that most collectors just kind of like collect. They’ll build rapport with artists they’re excited about. But then we make an effort to create space, not only for the artists but also for the people who are curious, because the only way that this works is that we have to get more folks interested and then informed.

Because then, you’ll do your own research and say hey I was in Philly and I visited the Tyler School and I saw this amazing sculptor. So a lot of it’s also exchanging info. I always think about Gordon Gekko. It’s like “information is king.” When you have that insight early, that gives you somewhat of a competitive advantage.

D: So there's a competitive element to collecting?

LARRY: There’s friendly competition to be the first to call out an artist who’s important, that people should pay attention to. Like this self taught artist I was feeling, and [Michael and Ayesha] were laughing at me. Then work went from being sold for $5K to now $45K. When you look at enough art, you get a gut feeling.

MICHAEL: I’m always the one that likes to find the next hot song, or for my job it’s the next hot stock or company that’s going to outperform expectation. The same thing goes for emerging artists. What we’re doing is bringing these artists to a more accessible platform, but it’s always fun—like what’s this artist producing, where are they going with their practice and their works.

LARRY: I think it comes down to everyone having a secret desire to tell the future... Sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong. Sometimes it’s ok to not know.

MICHAEL: Of course, everybody likes that.

LARRY: Because not everybody knows everything right off the bat. I think you need to leave room for experimentation. Because like us, artists don’t know who they are in this exact moment. So I always try to keep that in mind. But there is a difference between not knowing and being totally clueless. If they’re totally clueless, then it’s kinda like you have to wash your hands of it.

  Photography by Rayon RIchards

Photography by Rayon RIchards

After chatting we hit Open Studios, where I became the clueless one. Without Instagram separating me from the scene, I was caught out there, adrift among in-progress works and visitors far more conversant than me. Whether it was artists explaining approaches or unassuming collectors lodging bids, I barely kept up. A safe space, then and there, would have done me well. Because when you’re still figuring out the kind of collector you want to be, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and even alienated. With salons easing that initiation, maybe more of us will become active collectors, and turn the whole scene into a place of our own. 

 


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black artists mentioned
Discovering A New Harlem Underground - Part I

Discovering A New Harlem Underground - Part I

Andre Woolery - Bio and Artist Statement

Andre Woolery - Bio and Artist Statement