NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 3 - Fall 2018 - Page 30

n Stanley Whitney Out into the Open, 2000 Acrylic on canvas Art Dealer George N’Namdi I remember the first time I met gallery dealer George N’Namdi. George really jump-started my collection. Herb said, “You’ve got to meet N’Namdi, man. You’ve got to meet N’Namdi.” One time, when I was in Washington, DC, I was talking to Herb on the phone. And he said, “You know, George is there.” And I said, “Well, where is he?” George was taking one of his children to Howard University, but somehow I got his phone number and called him up. I said, “George, I’m Ron Ollie. I’m a friend of Herb Gentry. Can we meet?” And he said, “I don’t know. My daughter is here at Howard and we’re trying to get her situated, but I tell you what. Why don’t we meet at McDonald’s?” I said, “McDonald’s?” and he replied, “Yeah, let’s go to McDonald’s.” My mother had passed away four or five months earlier, and I had an inheritance. I decided I was going to use that 10-12 thousand dollars as a down payment to start my collection. It was also around the same time that I decided I was going to dedicate the collection to my parents. When my father died, he too left me some money, which I also used to buy a few pieces. My love of the arts came from my parents, and so did the seed money to jump-start my collection. But coming back to George N’Namdi, I went to his gallery when I was in Detroit. He later sent me some photographs and slides of works, and I selected nine to ten pieces. That’s how I got started collecting in earnest. MAR What size pieces were you buying? RMO I wasn’t buying huge pieces, but medium and small size works. Among the largest pieces I have are some Ed Clarks, which are about 40” x 60.” I also have a Stanley Whitney piece that is slightly larger. Artist Sam Gilliam I have work by the painter Sam Gilliam. And that’s another story. Herb Gentry also introduced me to Gabriel Tenabe. He said, “Man, you got to go and see my man Tenabe, a good person for you to know.” Tenabe was the director of the James E. Lewis Museum at Morgan State University in Baltimore. So I got to know Tenabe and went to see him. He knew Sam Gilliam and took me to Sam’s studio in Washington, DC. I remember telling Tenabe, “I don’t know if I can afford him.” He said, “Don’t worry about it.” Sam had this huge studio in DC. He was extremely engaging with a no-nonsense way of talking about his work, but likeable. He was also very generous with me. So I bought my first piece there directly from him, a wall-relief piece, which he called a hinged piece. Beautiful, I love it. I also acquired works of his from Brandywine, and I got one from Morgan State, as well. I formed a relationship with Sam and started buying directly from him. The last piece I bought from him was a draped piece, which I never thought I’d be able to afford, but he made it possible. It was probably the most amount of money I‘d ever spent for a single piece, but it was a great deal. I think I spent $10,000. I kept in touch with Sam. When I moved to Newark from Brooklyn, the first piece I bought from him, the wall relief, was packed in such a way that it was folded over on itself, and I couldn’t open it back up. I was so upset. I called Sam. He said, “Bring the piece to me and we’ll take care of it.” So my wife Monique and I went down there and took it to his studio. Sam said, “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of it.” A couple of weeks later, he called saying, “It’s released! We’ve fixed it for you.” And he sent the piece back to me. It’s an amazing thing when you talk about the human side of this I’ve been reflecting on what it is about art that appeals to me. I’ve concluded that it’s because art makes me feel alive — it puts me in touch with my humanity. And you also develop relationships with specific works. Sometimes when I look at a piece, I reflect upon where I was — the artist’s studio, or conversations I’ve had about art and life. Take my relationship with Herb. He taught me, not just about painting and painters, but much more. He was a big music person, a jazz person. He talked about the jazz scene in Paris — he had that club in Paris, Chez Honey — and some of the history of the African Americans in Paris during that time. My life has been a very interesting journey, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. The secret of life is opening up possibilities for yourself. One of ways I do that is by asking questions. Wondering, “What it would be like to go there?” “What’s inside that building?” Or, “What’s that museum like?” I’m not afraid of the unfamiliar — or the unknown. n m Sam Gilliam Hav-a-Tampa, 1995 Multi-media collage on paper m Monique McRipley and Ronald Maurice Ollie RMO Yes. And when I was living in San Francisco, I didn’t know any of the Black artists out there — even though I was going to the museums. I didn’t know of them, until I came back to New York and met Herb and some of the other artists. Then, when I would go back to San Francisco, Herb would say, “You’ve got to go by Bomani Gallery,” which was owned and run by Danny Glover and his wife, Asake Bomani. My network expanded even more abroad, because Gentry was directing me. So I dropped what I was doing and went over to meet with him near the Howard campus. He had gotten there before I did, and he had such a serious look. He had these really intimidating eyeglasses on, and he kind of looked at me. He had on his pork pie hat. And he said to me, “If you buy from me, I’m not just going to sell you one piece at a time. I’m going to sell you a whole collection of pieces.” I said, “I beg your pardon?” He said, “I build collectors. I’m not that interested in people buying one at a time. Once you buy a critical mass of pieces from me, then I’ll feed you one piece at a time.” I asked, “How do you propose that we’re going to do that?” He explained, “Well, I want you to come by the gallery, come by Detroit, and I’ll send you slides. And you pick out pieces you’re interested in, and then we’ll talk about pricing. And then you’ll have an art bill. Give me a down payment, a significant down-payment….” And from then on out, I wouldn’t say it was no holds barred; I’m not a wealthy guy, but I was out there. At the end of the year, when I got bonus money from my company, I would spend a lot of that on art. “Okay, fine.”