When Jessica Gaynelle Moss walked into Quincy Lee’s guest room last year, she couldn’t help but notice the portraits. About three dozen portraits of Black people hung on Lee’s walls, long style, positioned so they were staring directly at the bed. Moss remembers being awestruck by the impact.
“I thought, there are more of them than there are of me. That flipping of the gaze, when you are seeing so many Black faces,” said Moss, an artist, curator and arts consultant. She used that experience as inspiration when creating “The Vault,” an exhibition she curated for the Mint Museum Uptown that opens July 1.
“I’ve brought that same feeling of Quincy’s guest room into this museum. When you walk into this space, all eyes are on you, not the other way around,” she said. “There has been a role reversal, a shift in power; they are holding it, not you. In ‘The Vault,’ I’m using us and we. I’m centering the Black voice.”
Jessica Gaynelle Moss, shot by Jade Lilly
“The Vault” explores approaches and philosophies of art collecting by prominent Charlotte collectors Judy and Patrick Diamond, Nina and James Jackson, Christy and Quincy Lee, and Cheryse and Christopher Terry.
These collectors have shared objects from their private collections, including original paintings, prints, sculptures, vintage photography, vinyl records and more. The exhibit runs July 1 through Sept. 17. Some collectors are sharing works never publicly shown before.
Moss invests in and supports Black artists, and she works to develop more equitable and just policies to improve conditions that affect Black people. In 2016, with the help of a Knight Foundation grant, Moss founded The Roll Up CLT, an artist residency program for Black contemporary artists in Camp Greene. The program was based on a similar program she created in 2007 in Pittsburgh, where she transformed residential space into an affordable housing solution for local artists.
A Charlotte native, Moss earned a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Carnegie Mellon University, a master’s degree in Arts Administration, Policy and Management from the School of Art Institute of Chicago, and a master’s degree in Studies in Law from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
When curating “The Vault,” Moss let the collectors drive their own narratives.
“We often as Black people do not have the power to be able to tell our own stories; we don’t have agency,” Moss said. Once the museum signs on, the conversations with the collectors begin, and I ask them, “‘What do you want to show?’ Empowerment is a huge part of my curatorial process, how we as Black people can empower each other.”
Christy+ Quincy Lee shot by Breonna T. Collier
Lee, an executive in biotech pharmaceuticals, has rarely shown pieces from his personal collection. His Charlotte home, which he shares with wife Christy, is filled with hundreds of paintings from Black artists, including the portraits purposely hung to focus on the bed in the guest room. The goal from the start of their collecting has been to preserve visual art by artists who were lesser known, who either didn’t have a voice or were forgotten.
“When I grew up, I grew up attending museums, so everything I saw was the masters of the time, old world painting,” Lee said. “I didn’t see a lot that were by artists who looked like me, or artists of color in general. The assumption was, we just didn’t do it. Turns out we were; we just were not represented in spaces.”
A mentor suggested Lee look into collecting art, and he now enjoys learning about artists and hunting down their works. Lee researches extensively and travels around the country to find pieces. He often finds art through conversations with fellow collectors and strangers who have heard about his interests.
“I’m preserving the history,” Lee said. “When I walk by my kitchen and see the paintings, I
wonder what was going through the artist’s mind. What stories were they living? To me, if we can get some of these stories out, we share the narrative. I think about how we can continue this narrative about diversity so people can start feeling like they belong. If I can help bring this to the forefront, I think that’s great.”
Black people have always collected objects, Moss said. It was because of lack of access and opportunity that the artists weren’t seen, so they had to create their own spaces, and that was often in their homes.
“We, for so long, were looking for affirmation exteriorly, from the outside, when the only way we can achieve liberation is through the interior,” she said. “When I think of ‘The Vault,’ a vault is the container of the most precious objects. I’m equating our homes, our four collectors’ home spaces, as being these vaults. We’re thinking of homespace as sacred space.
“My curatorial standpoint is that there are many vaults,” Moss said. “My goal with all of my work, with everything, is to empower and liberate black people. It’s to show that we are all already collectors.”
Jennifer Sudul Edwards, Chief Curator and Curator of Contemporary Art at The Mint Museum, said as soon as she read Moss’ proposal for ‘exhibiting ‘The Vault,’ she knew the museum had to work with Moss.
“The Mint’s collection is built from the leadership and largesse of private collectors, including the Diamonds and the Lees, so it is meaningful to honor them. But Jessica also introduces the Mint audience to new collectors, new ways to define collecting, and especially the importance of art collecting specifically for Black families,” Edwards said.
Moss said viewers can expect to see a multitude of viewpoints represented in “The Vault.”
“Blackness, like collecting, is not a monolith,” Moss said. “There are so many different
methodologies and philosophies and practices. You will hear completely different perspectives. What a privilege and a vulnerability of each collector to invite us into their spaces. It feels really vulnerable and really intimate.
“I think about the vistas that are possible,” Moss said about the exhibition space. “The
opportunities of standing within one collection while looking at another, seeing those bridges that might be made.”
About the exhibit
What: The Vault
When: July 1-Sept. 17
Where: Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts, 500 S. Tryon St., Charlotte.
What you can see:
From Cheryse and Christopher Terry: A collection of over 30 afro picks, hundreds of magazines, records, toys, advertisements and other culturally specific and historic ephemera.
From Christy and Quincy Lee: Works by artists Albert Wells, Charles Alston, Bryan M. Wilson, Juan Logan, Antoine Williams, and J. Stacy Utley.
From Judy and Patrick Diamond: Works by Hale Woodruff, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, John Tweedle, Margaret Burroughs, Elizabeth Catlett, and Nellie Ashford.
From Nina and James Jackson: Paintings by Thomas James “T.J.” Reddy, prints by Kerry
James Marshall, and a collection of over 50 Black Santa Claus dolls and figures.
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