NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 3 - Fall 2018 - Page 26

n Ed Clark Untitled, 1975 Acrylic on canvas as a collector after you left home in Missouri. RMO I graduated from college with a major in mechanical engineering. At the time there was a big demand for engineers, particularly Black engineers. I took the opportunity to travel widely across the country to meet with a number of companies. I decided upon a professional future in technical engineering sales. After a thorough examination of the companies I’d interviewed, I decided on the Alcoa Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Beyond my interest in the technical aspects of my job, I wanted to be more involved in things that were happening culturally. To that end, I would reach out to meet people who were active in that world. One fellow was a pianist, Reginald Plato. He got me involved in the Carnegie Chamber Music Society and the Carnegie Museum. At the same time, I was moving into an apartment, and wanted to do something with the walls. At the furniture store to buy a couch and some chairs, I saw a framed geometric work in glass that had colors to match the couch. Needless to say, I bought the piece and, of course, put it right over the couch! I was also visiting the Starving Artists; they would sell at these hotels, and I bought one or two pieces there. I remember one piece, an abstract of a ship on water, a small work on canvas that I framed. How excited I was when I picked it up from the framer and found the place to hang it! I also bought a few abstract reproductions. My official start: I was an art buyer! I was so pleased. MAR The reproductions had a decorative function, then? R MO Yes, sure. People would come in and compliment me on my place and the works on the wall. This was how I got started after college. MAR Did your friends put work on their walls, too? R MO They might have pictures of Martin Luther King, or Jesus, or family photographs; perhaps a reproduction of a folk art piece — but not much that I recall. At the time I never thought I would become a collector. In other words, I didn’t say, “Gee, I can’t wait until I can get to a place where I can really afford fine art.” I wasn’t thinking that way. Yet. I graduated from college in 1973, and lived in Pittsburgh from 1974-1975. In 1976, I moved to Kansas City, Missouri. As I mentioned before, I was in Kansas City when I purchased my very first piece of fine art — an abstract print by Emmanuel Cooper titled Lisa. Lisa was a fellow art student who’d died, and Cooper dedicated this piece to her memory. Then he offered to get it framed for me and I agreed. It was nicely done. I wasn’t used to getting pieces framed professionally like that. When he told me the price, I said “Oh, my god!” Today, it’s catalogued with all the pieces I’ve collected since. I was still in Kansas City when I got a call from Human Resources, “We’ve got a new job for you, a promotion. We want you to move to New York.” I asked, “New York State or New York City?” New York City. Now, I’d been there on business, and I would always say, “I love going to New York, but I could never live there.” So I was really in a state, anxious. Then I decided, I’m not going to let this place intimidate me. It took me six months to get adjusted to the city. But then I just fell in love. I would go to certain poster shops to buy them. I had one by Tanner, The Banjo Lesson. I had a de Kooning from a show at Guild Hall in Easthampton — a beautiful image of his painting. Then there was a Paul Jenkins poster, another painter. And there was one I loved of a European Cobra artist, Karel Appel! It’s interesting how when I first saw Herbert Gentry’s work, I really liked it, but I didn’t make the connection until later. MAR Did you move to Brooklyn? R MO No. I decided to move to New Jersey — East Orange — but my office was at the old Pan Am building at 200 Park Avenue. I was going there just about every day. My sales territory included accounts in New Jersey and New York. I remember once, when I first got my company car, driving to my place in New Jersey, and feeling, “How am I ever going to get to the Lincoln Tunnel?” People were darting in and out. I would get to the far left lane, where someone would be double parked, and I would have to get back in the traffic…it was like “Oh, my god, this is a nightmare.” When I got home I went straight to bed. I was completely wiped out. But ultimately I met a friend of mine who I went to high school with, and he was “The Man!” He knew everything. He was a Wall Street lawyer, a very social guy, and he got me into his social clique. His name was Joe Barnes. Everyone knew Joe! So we would hang out, and one time he called me up and said, “Hey, man, the Studio Museum has this show up. You know, I’m inviting some friends, so why don’t you come with us?” And this was when The Studio Museum in Harlem was a walk-up — you walked up to the gallery space. I said, “I’ll meet you there. This is exciting!” MAR At that point, what were you thinking? Did you feel the Studio Museum was doing something extraordinary? You’d been going to museums like moma, the Metropolitan, the Kansas City Art Institute, the Carnegie. How was the Studio Museum different? I went there and they had an exhibition, and I think it may have been on the wpa artists. I remember getting a poster that I brought home and framed myself. I took an old frame I had and force-fit that poster into the frame and hung it up on my wall. From that point on, I was going to the museums all the time. this was the first museum that was dedicated to Black folks and Black artists. Of course, I had heard about it, but going there — it was on Fifth Avenue — that was special. This must have been in 1978. I don’t even recall the art, but this was a Black institution showing works by Black artists. It was thrilling. At the time I was decorating my apartment in New Jersey. I decided to get real poster art. RMO Well, I was excited because I was in New York for a while. I’d moved to New York in 1977 and left in 1985, when I got transferred out to northern California. I had a job there working for a firm called Kaiser Engineers. I lived in San Francisco and made the reverse commute to Oakland. One of my best friends and his wife, James and Anita Mayo, were in San Francisco, and they invited me to stay with them. I was traveling back and forth to the East Coast. This was before San Francisco constructed the new building for their Modern Art Museum. I would go to some of the museums in the park, the De Young, and the Palace of the Legion of Honor. As I was bi-coastal, I could also visit museums in Washington, DC, and back in New York, as well. MA R This was 1985? Were you aware of Robert Colescott, and how about Raymond Saunders in Oakland? RMO No, I wasn’t aware of those artists then. Nor did I know the work of Herb Gentry or Ed Clark. But I frequented the museums in San Francisco, and when I traveled I made a point of finding out what exhibitions I wanted to see in the places where I was going. MA R Tell me more about your life TH E EVOLUTION OF AN ART COLLECTION