THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS

 

 Patric McCoy

 

Hi Patric. How are you doing with this whole situation?

Well, you know I don't have a television. And it’s because of my irritation with the news media, especially radio, during the 2016 election, I was just disgusted that the media did not accurately challenge and report the situations that were going on. And they allowed this asshole to manipulate the media. And one of the ones that I was very upset with was NPR. That was my station. That was my go to. And after I listened to it, I realized they actually coddled him and they actually gave him room to get into a lot of people's heads when they should have just been calling him out from Jump Street. So I don’t even listen to that [station anymore]. It’s through this little phone and looking at Facebook every now and then and so forth. That's how I get my information. And people call me and tell me what's happened. But that's still too much. (laughter)

 

How would you assess the cultural moment right now?

I think about it all the time, and I don't ever stop thinking about it because I recognize how important it is to at least put up a caution sign or a redirection sign or detour sign so that some people can actually go in a different direction. I can't stop the flow of this top-down cultural model. I can't stop that that's going to be there. But I can at least redirect some people or make them start thinking about it. Is this really the best thing to do? Is this the best way that we can promote the visual arts and so forth?

I'm very concerned, and have been for a long time, that so many collections have been created within the African-American community, even in other communities, I just don't know the specifics with other communities, but I know within my community collections have been created that are really very fascinating. They really tell a story about a particular person's view of things or of a particular time, and the artists that were active in that time. And then that person dies. [The one] that put the collection together. And because the people that come behind [them], the heirs or whatever, don’t have the same vision, or even [in the absence] of heirs, the [collection] is just totally disbanded. It is thrown away. It's destroyed. Some stuff ends up in dumpsters and so forth. I'm seeing this and I’m like, ‘This is horrible.’ This is not what should happen. And as I've mentioned in the radio interview, Chicago just experienced the worst possible example of that recently, the loss of the Johnson Publishing Company/Ebony Jet collection. That was a priceless collection that [publisher Johnny] Johnson put together over all those years. It's unbelievable that it is gone. It was like an alternative art institute. The types of works that he had reflected the African American community. And to have them housed in an historic structure, the first African American skyscraper in downtown Chicago—that it could be gone? That’s a travesty that the stuff goes into auction and is dispersed. The fact that it was put together with purpose and the historical connectedness of all these artists that he and his assistants sought out and put together, that history should not have ever been destroyed.

 

So one of the things that I think is worth a lot of scrutiny and comes up a lot in the art world a lot these days is the kind of cultural course correction we're seeing in art history. There's seems to be a move towards inclusion, diversity, and a kind of reexamination and then an elevating of African-American artists.

I don’t agree with that.

 

If you look at the MCA and at a lot of the art centers and foundations around Chicago in particular, a lot of them are very diversity focused. But there's a problem in what I think is reflected by what happened to the Johnson collection, that collectors are trying to capitalize on a superficially inclusive movement in the arts. It could be a way of covering their own asses in terms of their complicity in larger, oppressive structures.

Right. And as a result, when that fad passes, it will go back to the way it was. I ain’t feeling it, I ain’t feeling it. As long as it's a top-down cultural flow for the visual arts, it'll always have these problems. Once you recognize that a cultural flow has to come up from the bottom, then you can actually have structural change. I just say this is a passing fad and it ain’t even a good one. What these people talk about “inclusive” and so forth, they’re talking out [of] their ears and making no sense.

 

Another artist I was interviewing was telling me that Betsy DeVos is a big collector of artists of color, and that raises questions for me, like what is her motivation?

Don't get me cursing on this thing. Please. (laughter) Don't. Let's go to something else. Oh, hell no. What was the motivation of the British to go into Benin City? To steal every goddamn thing.

 

It's cultural colonialism.

That's all that is. Don't take me down that path.(laughter)

 

I apologize.

(more laughter)

 

I do want to get something that we can put out there to make people more aware, because I think that there are a lot of young artists and people who are just like, “this is so great.” And to a degree it is, but it you should also scrutinize it more and you should look for ways to challenge it, because how can we generate this bottom-up cultural change that you want to see, that we need?

I believe that you have to get your hands dirty. You got to get down into the weeds. And you have to recognize that it's a long haul, that you're not going to see results instantly… It comes from having the long view, which is what young people don't have, and I don't fault them for it. The young artists [I see] would be scrambling, trying to get into the view of this system that they are [operating within and seeing it as paramount]. And they will do whatever they need to do. Be competitive, all that other kind of crap. I understand that. I don't have a problem with that. I just recognize that we have to change things down at the [artist-collector] level. Our thinking is, and what Diasporal Rhythms is [doing, is getting] some people to change their thinking [about being an art collector.] And that will change their behavior. In our organization, we have eighty-plus people who now identify as art collectors… Their behavior is now one where they are comfortable interacting and acquiring and preserving and treating artists that they just like, without it having to be sanctioned from above. That's a major change, [to feel] like I don't have to have this name or this type of work that is now lauded in the papers and so forth, which nobody could understand what the hell the artists are saying in the first place! Why would you feel like you have to have that type of work, when you can just go and get something that appeals to you? That's a major change. A major change. So we're just plowing ahead on that path, and we recognize that it’s a long haul.

 

Has is it been tough having to put events on hold for Diasporal Rhythms?

So much of our organization is [based on] social interaction. It's a very diverse group of people. The glue is the fact that we like each other and we all like art collecting. So when you put all that on hold, it's very difficult [to maintain cohesion.] I’m going to have a board meeting tomorrow, and we would have had two membership meetings by now. And our people really like being together. They like hearing about artists and having artists come and talk about what they are doing. We definitely like hearing about what other collectors are doing and what they like and so forth. So, it just, it is very difficult, very difficult for us at this point.

I've been on Facebook. Since the beginning of the lockdown, I've been posting images out of my collection, sections of the collection. I write about them [in a conversational tone], give back stories, funny stories, whatever, every day… It's a means of connecting people and also providing people a new way to think about an art collection. The comments that come out of that are very, very fascinating. I'm amazed at some of the things that people say in the comments: “This is just what I was thinking of” or “I did this also.” Wow. I would have never thought I would get such thoughtful responses. But I introduced the concept that we can talk about art collecting and then [found] out people have a need to converse about the importance of the visual arts in their world. So that's what I've been doing to keep the concept of [our] type of art collecting in the forefront of the people that form our community and even introduce it to a larger community.

 

What do you think about all the gallery closures and the virtual art shows and all that stuff? Would you think about all that?

The gallery closings, I would’ve expected that… It's a hard business in the best of times. So when you take out the fact that people can't move around… [it becomes,] “Oh, hell no. This is not a viable activity!” Also, because [the society] has promoted a top-down phenomenon for so long, [it is easy for the average gallery attendees] to pivot into a mindset that this is only for the elite and therefore I can't be concerned about it during the lockdown because it's not essential to me. Whereas we want people to think about it like, “No, [art] is like music.” As you are hunkered down in your house, you gotta have [music playing] just to keep you from going crazy, Okay? You should have so much art in your world so that you can see things that remind you of sanity. So, that's why I think I have not jumped out the window after fifty-something days of being in the house. I’m constantly looking at images that remind me of what is good about life. Because I believe art is essential. I know I might be in the minority, but [through Diasporal Rhythms,] we are working to make that a more widespread mindset. That yeah, you need to, to have art in your home.

One of my buddies just got a new place… he’s a laborer for a building management firm [and had not been a self-proclaimed art enthusiast before.] He asked me if he could get a piece of artwork. I have some [extra] art pieces down in my storeroom, so I gave him one. And now that he has put it up, he wants more, he wants more (laughs). So I could see that once people see how [art in their space] changes them, how it changes their world… art collecting will have the ability to be self-sustaining. But we've been taught to go art openings on Fridays, but you're there mainly to be social and be seen. To drink some wine, eat some cheese, but not actually to interact with that art. With no real purpose [of understanding] that somebody is saying, “This visual information is important.” You need to see this, and you might need to consider having this as a part of your world. And we tend to default that because of the cost of [the art,] because of the complexity of [‘required’] art knowledge, and, “I don't really understand it, but it is nice.” We can come and go to this event and participate, but [we are] not seriously considering ever acquiring any of this “art.” I might not even understand the art in a show because what's written on the wall is in some other language. (laughs) This ‘art speak.’ “What are they talking about?” Also, we've been taught that we are supposed to be thinking about this as an investment—a financial investment. I don't subscribe to that investment world because it's a totally rigged system… If you understand that it’s rigged, you’re cool. You know, stay out of it. Don't even go in there.

[All of these things are] why people can quickly jettison these activities and not feel like, oh, I'm missing something because I'm not going out to the galleries. And why galleries would close and now have to try to grab your attention through some virtual shows, I don't know how effective they are. I [have looked] at some art on the screen, but not a lot. And I've kind of been spoiled, maybe I shouldn't use the word spoiled; learned as a person that’s interested in the visual arts that you really have to see this art in person.

 

Absolutely.

The screen is not the way to do it. [The situation] is not as extreme as in music, where it is a whole other experience to hear it live. But we have developed our electronic media with music to the point that it's not that bad. You can kind of get a real experience from listening [to an electronic rendering.] But with the visual, I don't get it. I feel like you have to see it in person. So a visual image on the screen does not make me… in fact it makes me want to pause. If I see something I like, I still have to pause? Because you know, it might not look like this in real life.

 

I definitely think your message of having art in your home, particularly in times like this, is really important. But even before this, politics were terrible. The economy is crazy. People should have art regardless of whether or not we're in some kind of pandemic lockdown.

That's correct.

 

And that's the point of this. We're going to keep pushing that message. I tried pushing it with our previous interview and I feel like we're covering it again in a new sort of way. There's a little more urgency to it now. What I find interesting about this situation that we're in is the question of what is being revealed? What are we thinking about differently? Like, what is kind of being uncovered? And I feel like one of the things is the importance of having something that resonates with you in your home.

Right. Well, I'm here by myself. Yeah, I don't live with anybody else. But I have observed over the years that when I do have company here, we end up with very, very, very interesting conversations. Not the bullshit conversations, real conversations. And I kind of wonder, why is that? What I propose is that it's because there's art on the walls. [However,] we're not talking about art. The conversation is not about art, but it's just that human beings feel very comfortable talking to each other when they're in the midst of art, because art has a conversation going anyway. And so, my kind of paraphrasing of the phenomenon is that all we're doing is joining a conversation that's already taking place. It's easy to join a conversation as opposed to starting one. So I'm thinking that if we had art in these homes, especially during this lockdown where people are stuck with each other, that it would be easier for them to talk to each other. As opposed to being in a bare room, bare walls and so forth, I envision that's like talking to your ceiling. (laughter)

 

Thank you, Patric. It’s always a pleasure.

 

Patric McCoy is an art collector as well as co-founder and president of Diasporal Rhythms, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the support and collection of works by artists of the African Diaspora.

 

 

View of part of Patric McCoy's collection. Photo by Evan Carter.

Part of Patric McCoy's collection. Photo by Evan Carter.

Part of Patric McCoy's collection. Photo by Evan Carter.

Part of Patric McCoy's collection. Photo by Evan Carter.

Part of Patric McCoy's collection. Photo by Evan Carter.

 

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