In recent years, a new class of collectors has emerged—millennials at the intersections of fashion, entertainment, and pop culture who are parlaying mainstream clout into art-world influence—and the auction houses have taken notice. At Sotheby’s, the “Contemporary Curated” sales invite cultural tastemakers, from K-pop star T.O.P. to music magnate and Top 200 Collector Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean, to curate mid-season sales of contemporary art. The houses are also vying to sell to these young collectors in new categories, as collectibles produce sales comparable to blue-chip art. These ambitious collectors are making it their mission to disrupt the art world’s old ways.
Names to Know:
Matthew Chevallard, Miami
Jay Chou, Taipei
Maurice “Moe” Harkless, New York and Los Angeles
Isimeme “Easy” Otabor, Chicago
Kevin Poon, Hong Kong
Amar’e Stoudemire, Tel Aviv and New York
Leslie Sun, Taipei
Everette Taylor, Los Angeles
T.O.P (Choi Seung-hyun), Seoul
Maurice “Moe” Harkless, a 27-year-old New York Knicks forward, started collecting art with an eye toward making the art world more accessible. In his Los Angeles home, collectible skateboards plastered with Basquiat crowns and Warhol Campbell’s soup cans hang beside dazzling paintings by Nina Chanel Abney and Super Future Kid. And Bearbricks—the collectible toys produced by the Japanese company MediCom Toy, often in collaboration with artists and designers—line a wall from floor to ceiling. The intended effect of it all, according to the Queens, New York, native: the atmosphere of an art gallery.
Harkless owns a few dozen objects, and he’s adding all the time. Derrick Adams and Banksy are currently on his wish list. In March, he visited the Armory Show in New York for the first time.
Harkless is also on a social mission: He has recently been using his website to advocate for Black Lives Matter, and he wants to use his collection to make the art world more accessible to those who might once have felt shut out. “That was part of my reason for collecting in the first place—to share it with other people,” he told ARTnews over the summer.
ARTnews: How did you get into collecting?
Harkless: I’ve always had an interest in art. I’d go back and forth between New York and Los Angeles all the time, and see pieces and be on the fence about it, saying, “Ah, I like it but I don’t want to buy it.” Eventually one of my friends pushed me to pull the trigger on one piece. And after that it was easy to start collecting small things, like skateboards or figurine toys.
What was the first piece you bought?
It was a black-and-white Dissected KAWS Bearbrick. I had a vision when I started collecting to make a whole wall of Bearbricks. The collection started pretty small, mostly action figures and comics, and has really evolved from there.
What are some recent additions to the collection?
I got a new piece from Eric Shaw that’s about 6 feet long, a piece from Super Future Kid, one by Maya Hayuk. I really enjoy colorful art, which is the majority of what I’ve been collecting.
Is there a connecting thread between the artists in your collection?
When I look around I like to see colorful things. When you look around my house, the walls are all white and gray, so the art just pops off the walls in these loud yellow, green, blue, pink.
Tell me about your work as a social justice advocate. How does it intersect with your collecting?
Art is such a huge part of advocacy. Like Nina Chanel Abney, her art is socially provoking, and has been getting a lot of play recently because it’s so relevant to what’s going on. And obviously you look at me and see that I’m a Black man. I grew up in a predominantly Black neighborhood, everyone around me was a minority. I had to struggle a lot growing up. Now I’m in a position to help people, and my stance is to let it be known what I’m about, to use my voice to share resources. My website highlights different resources to support Black Lives Matter, linking to Black-owned restaurants and Black artists.
How does that advocacy manifest in the artists whose work you buy?
I’m in a position where I have a platform, I have accessibility to certain people, and that’s helped get my foot in the door for art and find ways to collect certain pieces that I wanted, while promoting artists that I enjoy [who] may not always get to share the spotlight. And now people who value my opinion will look at those artists’ work. That’s important to me, that I get to use my platform to get my friends into art as well. Friends ask me questions about where they should start, how to get involved. Collecting is one of those things that, if you know, you know. And we won’t know unless people tell us. I spread the word to people who don’t know they can collect these things—or are scared to pursue it.
Who are some of the artists that you’ve promoted?
Marcus Jahmal, he’s an artist in New York. Reginald Sylvester, Koichi Sato. I did an interview with the New York Times and I mentioned some of the artists I enjoy in it. And then they messaged me and said, “Hey, thanks for the shout-out.” And from there, we developed a relationship. To me, that’s the most fulfilling part of all this, building relationships with people I may never have met if I hadn’t opened myself up to this possibility.