Art Scene Starters: Where Are Collectors Helping to Grow a City’s Art Community?

Collectors based outside major art world hubs like New York, Los Angeles, London, and Hong Kong occupy unique positions in their communities—they have the opportunity to nurture growing creative scenes. Art scene starters support small and midsize art markets and homegrown institutions in locales as diverse as Little Rock, Arkansas, and Montreal. Examples of such growth and attention generators among Top 200 Collectors are Elham and Tony Salamé, who are responsible for the Aïshti Foundation in Beirut, and Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani, who in 2011 founded the Samdani Art Foundation, which funds the Dhaka Art Summit in Bangladesh.

Darrell Walker with a work by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

Darrell Walker with a work by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

A Big Force in Little Rock

When Darrell Walker was a point guard on the Washington Bullets in the late 1980s, not many basketball players were art collectors. An exception was Bernard King, a Hall of Famer. Walker, who is now head coach of men’s basketball at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, calls King the godfather of athlete-collectors. Meeting King introduced him to a passion he has been pursuing for 30 years.

“After that, it just took off,” Walker said of his collection, which he characterizes as “eclectic,” and now numbers some 85 works by artists like Sam Gilliam, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Kehinde Wiley, Carrie Mae Weems, and Hank Willis Thomas.

Among his earliest acquisitions were pieces by Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and Robert Colescott, artists whom mainstream institutions have only recently become eager to collect.

“African-American artists are really starting to get their due,” Walker told ARTnews. “Museums and collectors are now trying to scramble to get the Jacob Lawrences and Charles Whites—it’s funny to sit back and watch all that.”

One of Walker’s favorite pieces is a 1944 figurative painting by Norman Lewis entitled Yellow Man, which he purchased in the ’90s. “I’m a big fan of Norman Lewis,” Walker said. “I really cherish that piece, I love that piece.”

Walker has also made a point to make his holdings accessible to the Little Rock community. He’s gifted nine works—including pieces by Juan Logan, James Phillips, Herbert Gentry, and Joyce Wellman—to the University of Arkansas, and has loaned the institution artworks for exhibition. He has also donated work to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Tubman Museum in Georgia, the Arkansas Arts Center, and the Diggs Gallery at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina.

Walker cites the relationships he’s cultivated with artists as one of his most fulfilling endeavors. He’s maintained a long friendship with Sam Gilliam, and during their lifetimes, he regularly socialized and corresponded with Jacob Lawrence, Ed Clark, and Al Loving. Walker also keeps in touch with younger artists like Rashid Johnson, Julie Mehretu, and Radcliffe Bailey.

“There are so many different artists in my collection that I know and have personal relationships with,” Walker said, adding that Instagram has “opened up a new art world” for learning about emerging talents.

Just as King turned Walker on to collecting decades ago, Walker has played a part in nurturing other athletes’ interest in the arts. He has mentored another retired NBA player in his collecting: Elliot Perry, who focuses on modern and contemporary works by Black artists.

“He keeps me abreast … on all the emerging young artists,” Walker said of Perry. “He’s mentoring me now!”

Pierre and Anne-Marie Trahan.

Pierre and Anne-Marie Trahan.

Montreal Saints

Vast former shipyards make great exhibition spaces for contemporary art—think the Venice Biennale’s famous Arsenale. Following that example, Canadian art collectors Anne-Marie and Pierre Trahan founded Arsenal Contemporary in 2011, an 80,000-square-foot exhibition space and artist residency program in a former shipyard in Montreal, to promote Canadian art in an international context.

Arsenal has a gallery for temporary artist projects—the most recent, a solo outing of Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer—and another devoted to exhibiting the Trahans’ personal collection, which includes works by such international names as Anish Kapoor, Ugo Rondinone, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Kapwani Kiwanga, Amalia Ulman, Cynthia Daignault, and Oliver Laric, alongside Canadian artists like Douglas Coupland, David Altmejd, Rodney Graham, and Wanda Koop.

Over the years, Arsenal has expanded. In 2013 the Trahans opened a branch in Toronto, and, four years later, one in New York. Arsenal has become integral to supporting Canadian art, both within the country through its residency and commissioning programs in Montreal, and by exhibiting Canadian artists in the U.S. At the New York space, the Trahans typically partner with commercial art galleries to show the work of Canadian artists who have never shown in the city before.

For the Trahans, who married just out of college, collecting started as a yearly tradition: Instead of buying each other Christmas gifts, they bought themselves artwork.

“Every year we would buy one piece,” Anne-Marie said. “We had a lot of fun shopping for it.” And as their essential oils business grew, they were able to buy more and more pieces. “At one point we were in Europe and it wasn’t just one piece we could afford,” she said. “That’s how a collection gets out of hand.”

And even when they might not agree, that doesn’t stop one of them from buying a new piece. “There’s not much we don’t like,” Anne-Marie said. “If you take everything I like that he lets me buy even though he doesn’t like it, and everything he likes that I let him buy even if I don’t like it, it’s pretty wide.”

Other Names to Know: 

Fred Bidwell
Cleveland, Ohio

Manuel Espinosa Yglesias and Ángeles Espinosa Yglesias Rugarcía
Puebla, Mexico

He Jianfeng
Foshan, China

Othman Lazraq
Casablanca, Morocco

Carlos Marsano
Peru

Nachson Mimran
Gstaad, Switzerland; Senegal

Alec Oxenford
Buenos Aires

Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon
Abeokuta, Nigeria

Maris and Irina Vitols
Riga, Latvia

Collectors based outside major city centers can spur others to take up their passion.Read MoreARTnews, Market, Anne-Marie Trahan, ARTnews Top 200 Collectors, Darrell Walker, Pierre TrahanARTnews.comRead More

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