Reviewer: Benjamin Champagne
Venue: Saginaw Art Museum
Wonderfully Made: The Anthony and Davida Artis Collection of African-American fine art is a story of entrepreneurship. The heart of the entrepreneur isn’t that different from the heart of the artist.
The two made a special trip from Flint to Saginaw on Thursday November 5th to do a presentation for a few groups. Covid-19 restrictions have limited what would be a 100 person art opening, complete with a champagne toast, down to 10 people in a room. Repeat that a few times a day and you have a view of what an art opening looks like in a pandemic.
The show in the Graphic Arts Gallery of the Saginaw Art Museum is colorful and moving. It is an assortment of work through the last century. There are early works from Benny Andrews. There is a very important piece by Alma Thomas. But saying that one older, notable piece is important undermines the importance of the wood prints that foresaw the 2020 BLM movement, made just a decade prior by a man in Chicago. The entire collection is important.
But just as much is the story of Anthony and Davida themselves. They are self taught on how to build a collection. They began collecting in 2009. Prints and drawings. Then they worked their way up to oil paintings and originals. The couple were able to snag pieces from places like eBay and sell them to buyers for 1000% mark ups. They reinvested that money into other pieces. Here and there they got lucky and found things that were very valuable.
But at the heart, they reminded themselves to always buy things that they themselves liked. It didn’t matter if it had re-sale value. This had led them to have an amazing collection that focuses on artists who were under represented in their time. It also means that once in the early years, they had to really swallow hard when they sold a piece to make ends meet.
Since then, they have been blessed and fortunate. They have partnered with SVSU, shown at the FIA, sold and bought with places like Sotheby’s. The list goes on.
The show is relevant to culture right now. Topical one would say, but that would be wrong. Philosophical would be more accurate. Museums and galleries kept black art out for so long that it became undervalued. Black art is finally being celebrated and collections like these are on the rise.
One of the highlights of the show is a lithograph by recently deceased, Michael B. Platt. The print is a wonder and treat for the eye. Two Sisters has a beautiful composition. The colors work great together and it gives the viewer pause to stand in front. But it also has a special connection to personal photos of the collectors themselves. The show is so personal, that Anthony Artis is actually portrayed preaching in one of the pieces.
This article can’t do the show justice. It is a must see. The museum is open Wednesday’s through Friday’s from 12pm – 5pm. One must be in front of the pieces, get their noses in close, smell the museum air to really understand this show. This will only be a glimpse into African-American Art, but it is a great cross section and a wonderful start if you haven’t made it into that yet.