Interview with Charlotte Newman

Charlotte Newman, art collector, speaks with Passage Arts


Passage Arts: Can you tell us about yourself?

Charlotte Newman: I am driven by a desire to make the world a better place for all. Growing up in the birthplace of the civil rights movement, Atlanta, GA, and attending Wellesley College, which has a legacy of public service, were two of my most formative experiences. For most of my career to date, I worked as a public servant - as an advisor to four members of the United States Congress, including Senators Cory Booker and Chris Murphy. I now work in technology, but I remain devoted to the same ideals of being a change agent and positive actor in any space. This perspective also impacts how I think about myself in relation to the art world. I endeavor to collect responsibly by focusing on the long-term. That means building relationships with artists and galleries over time.

PA: How did you get your start in art, and how did you get started as a collector?

CN: My godmother is a visual artist. She's worked in a variety of media from batik to printmaking. I grew up in and around her practice, going to her exhibitions at spaces like the Hammonds House in Atlanta, Georgia. Her influence inspired my decision to study and major in Art History at Wellesley College. During that period, I interned with Carol Thompson in the High Museum Department of African Art and worked as an assistant to Radcliffe Bailey. All of those experiences, including my parents own appreciation of art - inform my collecting. I started as a collector, right after college. And, my first purchase was a portrait that I acquired from an artist who is now deceased, Jon Onye Lockard. I treasure that piece because of his impact and the fact that it reflects my earliest interests as a collector.

PA: Who are some of your favorite artists? What artists are you looking at in the future?

CN: I'm constantly in conversation with artists. I don't merely want to acquire work. It is my goal to really understand the artist's practice and to have genuine relationships with artists that I admire. My current favorites are Caitlin Cherry, Derek Fordjour, Alteronce Gumby, Jamea Richmond Edwards, Vaughn Spann, and Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum.

Other artists that I'm watching and I believe have important and long careers ahead of them are Kwesi Botchway, Dominic Chambers, Joy Labinjo, Cassi Namoda, and Sydney Vernon.

PA: You mentioned that your tastes as a collector have changed over time. How so? How does your collection reflect you and how has it changed as you've changed?

CN: I started collecting with a keen interest in artists who were engaging with identity and that remains a subject of great interest. However, an interest in literature, philosophy, and science has influenced some of the artists that I've gravitated to in recent years, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum and Alteronce Gumby, for example. Sunstrum creates mythologies and narratives in her work that are sometimes inspired by or taken from literature. Alteronce draws from space and the galaxies beyond us for inspiration. Viewing his pieces are like peering into the cosmos.

PA: We talked about the nuts and bolts of being a collector. What nuts-and-bolts details have surprised you as a collector?

CN: There is a lot of time involved in managing logistical details like shipping and maintaining records. And, it's easy to be enamored by the parts of collecting that are the most fun - speaking with artists and attending openings. But, it's important to have an eye on the practicalities that are important for building a collection. I think a lot about preserving the art that I have collected by using excellent art handlers and maintaining insurance.

PA: What advice would you have for young and aspiring collectors?

CN: Just start, be curious, and focus on what brings you joy. There are ways of viewing art and an entire lexicon that you will learn. But, first, revel in being a beginner.

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