Nancy Lane, an art collector and businesswoman who transformed New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem with her patronage, has died at 88. The New York Times, which first reported her death, said that she died on March 28 in Manhattan.
Lane was the longest-serving board member at the Studio Museum. Having first joined the institution’s board in 1973, and later serving as its chair from 1987 to 1989, she helped build up the museum’s reputation as one of the most important sites for artists of African descent and as a key hub for Black curators.
“With her deeply profound commitment to art and artists and her unwavering dedication to our mission, she was integral to virtually every significant aspect of our institution,” Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum, said in a statement to ARTnews. “Nancy’s legacy will live through the Studio Museum’s work for generations to come.”
Born in 1933, Lane held a number of positions in the business world, most notably at Johnson & Johnson, where she worked for 25 years, ultimately retiring in 2000 as its vice president of government affairs. She became one of the few Black women to hold high-ranking positions in that sphere, and proved inspirational for many because of it.
Beyond the Studio Museum, Lane also sat on the boards of other arts organizations. According to the History Makers, she was a co-chair of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s photography-focused Stieglitz Society and an advisor to the International Review of African American Art (IRAAA). In 2019, she became a co-chair of the Museum of Modern Art’s Black Arts Council. She also sat on the NAACP’s National Board of Directors and was on the board of Rutgers University in New Jersey.
But it was the Studio Museum to which she remained most committed.
In an interview with the IRAAA held to mark the announcement of David Adjaye’s new Studio Museum building, which is currently under construction, she said, “Our museum has been a powerful force in the transformation of the global art world, launching and furthering the careers of hundreds of artists of African descent and exposing generations of audiences to powerful experiences with art and artists.”
During the final decades of her life, Lane placed a priority on collecting art, with an emphasis on work by women. In a 2018 interview with the Times, she said that her 200-work collection included pieces by Awol Erizku, Carrie Mae Weems, Chakaia Booker, Glenn Ligon, Yinka Shonibare, and more.
Many artists took to social media to mourn Lane over the weekend.
“A definite force of nature, who lifted many Black artists’ careers,” wrote photographer Lola Flash on Instagram.
Artist Hank Willis Thomas wrote, “You were one of the first and most consistent smiling faces for so many of us for so long.”