Lehigh University Art Galleries’ newest exhibition, “Young, Gifted and Black,” featuring a collection of works by both emerging and established Black artists, opened for viewing on Feb. 1.
Works by over 50 artists of African descent were curated by Bernard Lumpkin, a contemporary art collector, patron and educator. The art pieces come from his personal collection, The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art.
Lumpkin said these works hang on the walls of his family’s home when they are not being displayed in university galleries. However, there are always some works from his personal collection out on loan to museum galleries.
In speaking about the mission behind this exhibition, as well as his philosophy as an art collector, Lumpkin emphasized his desire to champion Black voices and serve as an advocate and patron of Black talent and the Black experience.
Lumpkin said the collection was inspired by the conversations he had with his father about growing up as a Black man in Los Angeles.
Lumpkin said his father’s dream as a child was to be a scientist — as a teenager, his father built a telescope from scratch when his parents could not afford one. He said his father’s drive, determination and ingenuity had a big impact on him.
“For me, it was these conversations towards the end of my father’s life that inspired the idea of wanting to build a collection that wrestled with the same questions of identity, family, history and race,” Lumpkin said. “I also wanted to support young artists who are simultaneously working within the tradition of painting and art making, but are also redefining and reinventing those traditions.”
At the show’s opening, some artworks invited viewers to look closer in order to take a more detailed view of the intricacies in the work. Other artworks compelled the viewers to back up multiple feet in order to view it as a whole.
A sculpture by artist Kevin Beasley titled “Wrong” was constructed of non-traditional materials including a hooded sweatshirt and body pillow and was placed in the middle of the floor of the exhibition space.
During the opening, conversations about the message and appearances of several art works were facilitated between Lumpkin, LUAG staff and visitors of the exhibit.
Mark Wonsidler, the LUAG curator of exhibitions and collections, said the planning behind getting this
exhibit to Lehigh had predated COVID-19.
Wonsidler said the opportunity to house the exhibit was one that LUAG jumped on quickly after discovering it.
“It’s just right on vision with our three legs of the LUAG mission: to focus on critical thinking, cultural understanding and well-being,” Wonsidler said. “This exhibition hits all three of those in a really amplified way.”
After the short guided tour of a few highlighted works within the collection, members of the Lehigh community lingered to view the works and talk about the impact the exhibit had on them.
“I think the exhibit is an opportunity to have a conversation with each other and with ourselves about the history of America and how these artists are grappling with these issues and presenting them and their own voices, in their own way,” said Stacie Brennan, LUAG curator of education. “I’m hoping that it brings these voices forward, creates conversations with the community and brings people together.”
Further LUAG events related to the exhibition, including a Feb. 22 talk with artists Alteronce Gumby and Wilmer Wilson IV in conversation with Lumpkin, can be found online at LUAG’s “Events” page.
The “Young, Gifted and Black” exhibition will be on view in the LUAG Main Gallery in Zoellner Arts Center until May 27.
“We want people to come to these works with a critical eye. We want them to be doorways to the understanding of one’s own culture or a culture that you haven’t experienced,” Wonsidler said. “I think ultimately the question of well-being is how we all get together in a better way.”