Portrait of Arthur Lewis with his collection, featuring Titus Kaphar, Enough About You, 2016; Kenturah Davis, Untitled 2, 2013; and Wangari Mathenge, The Ascendants (Now and Then), 2019. Photo by Jeff McLane. Courtesy of the artists and Arthur Lewis.
The front door of Arthur Lewis’s Los Angeles home opens to a room organized like an exhibition space. The marks of domesticity—dining room table, mantel, fireplace, throw pillows—are present, but engulfed by art. Paintings and sculptures grab all the attention, and maybe the intention, of the space.
Titus Kaphar’s Enough About You (2016) greets your first glance. Kaphar’s much-lauded work is based on an 18th-century painting, but in his version, the focus is placed on a young black boy, whose portrait is placed in an ornate gold frame. Meanwhile, the rest of the composition—featuring white men in powder wigs, including Elihu Yale—is crumpled up and trails off across the wall. Kaphar’s work speculates on the life, desires, and hopes of the lone black figure, who, in the original work, remains small in the background, serving Yale and colleagues while wearing a steel collar. The work is ambitious, demanding, and a reckoning on black possibilities. And it encapsulates the ethos of Lewis’s dynamic art collection.
Lewis, who recently became the creative director of UTA Fine Arts and UTA Artist Space, is a fixture of the Los Angeles art community. But before Los Angeles, and before 13 years of building his bold collection, his earliest engagements with art happened in his hometown of New Orleans. Lewis credits the city’s black cultural productions, museums, and vibrancy as an aesthetic and ethical foundation for what would become the tenets of his collection: brilliantly executed craftsmanship, narrative-driven practices, and the work of black practitioners.
When we spoke in early March, Lewis recalled the various daily influences and experiences that fostered his love for art—from the work of Elizabeth Catlett and Lyndon Barrois to the musicians and commissioned posters of Jazz Fest; from Mardi Gras celebrations and artisans to the sculptures and festivities of Louis Armstrong Park. “Being able to grow up in that land of music, food, and art, and then being in this beautiful community of artists that were just part of our everyday scene, was an extraordinary thing,” Lewis said. “Through a lot of the architecture and the history that comes from New Orleans, you learn to appreciate your history in a way that many don’t. I was reminded every day of what took place in that city culturally.”
Lewis’s art collection, which he shares with his partner Hau Ngyuen, continues this sense of cultural legacy. Primarily centered on black people and black womxn artists, the works range from minimalist markings and experimental video to sculpture and figurative paintings. Ebony G. Patterson sits across from Genevieve Gaignard; Toyin Ojih Odutola shares the dining room with Torkwase Dyson; and Kerry James Marshall resides with Sadie Barnette. Emerging artists mix with mid-career masters. The house itself is a showcase of our rising stars and established icons making the domestic realm—a space measured in comfort due to its ability to be fixed—feel incredibly fresh………………….