Young. Gifted and black
Oh what a lovely precious dream
To be young, gifted and black
Open your heart to what I mean 
—Nina Simone

Maybe one of the reasons painter Wayne Thiebaud taught for forty years at the University of California at Davis was his gratitude for being part of an institution that valued discovery and exploration: “I didn’t have to concern myself with whether the paintings would sell or whether they would be useful.” When the adjoining Manetti Shrem partnered with the school and opened in 2016, it became the first university museum to accommodate a working art studio in full view of visitors. The facility is open to guests five days a week, but on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, teachers from all fields, whether viticulture, psychology, or art, can book the galleries for their own needs. “Our primary audience is the students, faculty, and staff,” explains Associate Curator Susie Kantor, “ and that means every discipline. Many don’t think the museum is for them, but once they come inside, they realize that it is a place with a really fundamental role for them in understanding their place in the world, and that’s what we try to do with the exhibitions, as well.”

Case in point, the upcoming Young, Gifted and Black: The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art, which presents the likes of Kerry James Marshall and Kara Walker paving the way for a generation of upcoming artists like Vaughn Spann and Chiffon Thomas, featured here. Bernard Lumpkin has spearheaded this mission to promote creators of African descent, seeing it as a way of connecting to his roots, and specifically with his late father, perfectly aligning with the Shrem. As Kantor points out, “A lot of people collect, but he talks about being an advocate; it’s not just buying art for his own collection and hanging it at his home; it’s about doing the studio visits and continuing the relationship. He promotes their work, so it’s really about the old school idea of how patronage can and should be.” And though Lumpkin is on committees at the Whitney and MoMA, he strategically planned that the show travels to college museums and galleries, emphasizing the educational element of introducing the artists to people who might not have the opportunity to see the work. Organized around themes of reclamation of the color black, portraiture, materiality, and color, Chiffon Thomas’s piece, A Mother Who Had No Mother, represents all those elements. Employing embroidery thread and fabric, the painting portrays the relationship with their family, balancing growing up in a religious household while addressing their own gender and sexual identity. Painted on a window screen, mounted roughly five inches off the wall, it provides a textured portal into the filaments of family life. —Gwynned Vitello

Young, Gifted and Black is on view at UC Davis’ Manetti Shrem Museum through December 19, 2022 //