NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 3 - Fall 2018 - Page 24

Something I do remember about college: Our church was very active in the community — it had been part of the Underground Railroad — and was one of the oldest Baptist Churches west of the Mississippi. My grandmother went there, my uncle was a deacon, and my entire family had a history there. And we would have these affairs that we called bazaars, which we held in a huge education building. I must have been a sophomore or a junior in college, when one day I’m walking around, and I see this artist’s work. And it was — you’re going to laugh when I say this — it’s painting on velvet! But I’m taken by it to the point where I remember we were having a Black History celebration in my school for a week. And I came back, and I said to the guy, “Look, I met this artist and he’s willing to bring his art to the campus and display it.” So I worked out an arrangement with the artist. I drove to St Louis to pick him up, and we drove together to the campus, and he showed his art. My friends were coming up saying “Wow, this is nice!” It was interesting. I don’t recall the artist’s name, but I was really taken by his images. It’s a vivid memory. MA R Did your siblings share your passion for art? RMO My brother Reggie has a real interest in art, along with my sister who could really draw. My older brother Burt was attracted to loftier, more intellectual pursuits. But Reggie at one point was putting together a plan to open an art gallery in Chicago. I don’t remember all the reasons why it didn’t develop, but he was serious. He and his wife were involved in an art group; the members would go by each other’s house to look at art. Part of the reason Reggie never opened an art gallery was he had two boys and buying art wasn’t necessarily a priority for him. But he always likes to hear from me about what’s happening in the art world in New York. They were here earlier this year, and he really liked my collection. RON OLLI E’S COLLECTION MAR Does your wife share your appreciation of art? R MO When Monique and I were first married we didn’t share the same level of interest in collecting art or going to museums. But over time, she came to the point where she enjoyed museums. Now when we travel, we always go to museums. In Madrid it was The Prado. We were in St. Petersburg, and went to the Hermitage. Right after Al Loving died — we were at an opening — she said, “You know, I really miss seeing Al; he had such a warm presence”— which he did. So yeah, she definitely has an appreciation for art, and she talks about it. She’s very articulate about art that she likes or doesn’t like. MAR It strikes me that it’s a good thing to have support, to have someone else who feels uplifted, living with the things that you have collected. So what does your collection consist of? R MO I don’t have sculpture, although I used to work for Roland Haas, an acrylic manufacturer. They owned the brand name Plexiglas, and some of my customers would sell acrylic sculpture. I remember buying four pieces from this one guy for $200. Beautiful sculpture, transparent. But in terms of paintings and drawing, I have a good balance between works on paper and on canvas. I have a nice collection of Gentry line drawings. Also photographs — I have a substantial collection of photography, as well. I don’t have as diverse a group of artists, in terms of photography, as I have for paintings, drawings and prints. I decided to specialize in just a few photographers — about five. I have a lot of Adger Cowans’s works. Hugh Bell and Leroy Henderson are two others. Adger was involved in the Kamoinge photography group, and he photographed our wedding. I didn’t want a conventional photographer, and he really got some great shots. A lot of people think I don’t particularly like figurative works but I do, very much. Hugh Bell Hot Jazz at Circle in the Square, 1952 Silver gelatin print n n Norman Lewis Untitled, 1966 Print on paper 9.75 inches by 7.5 inches Black Abstract artists have been so ignored. Not only by the White art world, but a lot of Black folks think that it’s important to grace their walls with works that uplift the Race. I understand that point of view to some degree, but for me, abstraction by Black artists is uplifting, as well. I know that during the Harlem Renaissance and later in the Black Arts movement, there was a move toward figurative work, but I think this abstract work is important in its own right. That’s why I’ve been spending a lot of time developing a Research Archive on the history of Black Abstraction. I’ve had a researcher to help find articles on artists and group movements and things like that. I’m accumulating a lot of materials, catalogs, and magazine articles — all of it significant. It’s one of my raison d’être to have a collection that focuses on Black Abstraction with the research archive to support it. Also of importance are influences engendered by other artists. I ran into a guy at the Norman Lewis opening in Philadelphia whom I’d met several years before, his name is Eric Bartlett. He’d always told me he didn’t like abstraction and was only going to buy figurative works. But he encountered Al Loving, the great abstract artist, and Al turned him around. Now, he tells me, that all he’s collecting is abstract works. These various influences are important, as well — such as how Herb Gentry influenced me and introduced me to Abstract Art. Leroy Henderson Untitled (Ballet dancer Carmen) Silver gelatin print n n