When Admiration Is the Thread of a Collection

When Admiration Is the Thread of a Collection


Nancy Lane displays photographs of people she admires on her bedroom wall. There, she points out, is a jubilant black-and-white image of the photographer Gordon Parks, surrounded by friends, celebrating his 95th birthday in Harlem.

“Gordon gets out of the car, and sees that here, they are all here to celebrate him and celebrate what he has meant to black photographers,” said Ms. Lane, a board member of the Studio Museum in Harlem. “And the joy that they all have is so clear.”

The photo hangs next to others featuring the likes of Judith Jamison, a former artistic director for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; the jazz musician Miles Davis; and the dancer and social activist Katherine Dunham.

Ms. Lane’s 200-piece collection of paintings, sculptures and photographs, most by black artists, wraps its way throughout her Greenwich Village apartment.

On another wall, there is a personal portrait featuring a small Ms. Lane in the distance, taken by Carrie Mae Weems. A copy of Pete Souza’s “Obama: An Intimate Portrait,” sits on a coffee table next to a small Takashi Murakami sculpture.

It’s a breezy July afternoon and Ms. Lane has the windows open in her apartment. She is wearing a millennial-pink button-down with a string of pearls around her neck, and she is buzzing with energy as she discusses the art in her life.

Ms. Lane has been a board member at the Studio Museum for most of its existence, over 40 years. She first joined because she was intrigued by the museum’s residency program for up-and-coming artists.

Since her retirement in 2000 (among other positions, she worked at Johnson & Johnson for 25 years, a bulk of the time as vice president of government affairs), Ms. Lane has devoted much of her focus to the arts.

For example, she completed an M.A., from Christie’s Education, in modern art, connoisseurship and the history of the art market.

At a recent auction to raise money to expand the Studio Museum, Ms. Lane bought “Fake Death Picture (The Suicide — Manet),” a chromogenic print by the British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare that’s mounted near the entrance to the apartment.

She’s especially drawn to female artists — “These are strong women,” she said. In her collection, is a large figural black sculpture by Chakaia Booker, and prints from Ms. Weems’s series “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried” (1995-1996).

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

You have a few paintings from Glenn Ligon on your wall. He mixes literature with art, what do you think of this combination?

I like that he takes the words, and then turns them, for me, into feelings. And with the repetition, it just seems to intensify. So you read the phrase, “I feel most colored when I’m thrown against a sharp white background,” and then he repeats it. In the repetition, what happens is, you begin to feel, how disturbing it is to be in this circumstance. That’s what I take away from that.

What do you think of the artists who use popular culture, like graffiti and magazines?

Sometimes I’ve admired work written in another language. And this, to me, is like another language. And it catches you — I’m all caught up in the swirl of it and the beauty of it without even trying to make any particular sense of it.

What does “Girl with a Bamboo Earring” mean in the context of your collection?

When he did this piece he was still at Yale working on his M.F.A. I loved the work, I found it arresting. I love her strength that we see, even with how young she is. I love that powerful gaze she has.

How do you think photography of smaller moments reflects larger ideas?

I think they reflect significant moments in life. For example, this picture — “Miles Davis in the Green Room.” It’s really an iconic piece. That’s a shot where Miles is so reflective. He’s there, he’s not there. He’s in the midst of the group. The group is focused in so many ways on him, and Miles is in his own world.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page C14 of the New York edition with the headline: She’s Often Warmed by the Fire of Female Artists. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe



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