The following is one of several extended looks into figures and institutions selected for “The Deciders,” a list of art-world figures pointing the way forward developed by ARTnews and special guest editor Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean. See the full list in the Winter 2020 issue of the magazine and online here.
Pamela Joyner has some advice for collectors who are just starting out: “Figure out where the vacuum is, where the void is, where the need is. So whatever the void is, find the need and fill the gap.” That’s what she told an audience last year in San Francisco, where she and her husband, Alfred J. Giuffrida, are based, and that is exactly what she did 20 years ago, when she began a collection of abstract art by African-American artists that now encompasses more than 300 works by artists like Alma Thomas, Sam Gilliam, and Mark Bradford.
Joyner and Giuffrida’s collecting efforts flew under the art-world’s radar until 2016 when they documented the collection in a hefty book. Four Generations: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art then became an exhibition of work by African-American artists from the 1940s to the present, “Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection,” which began a tour three years ago at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, and moved on to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, before opening this past fall at the Baltimore Museum of Art in an expanded form.
There is no trifling objective behind the couple’s acquisitions. “Ours is a mission-driven collection with no smaller ambition than to reframe art history and make certain to the extent of our capabilities and resources that our artists are put into the full context of a diverse canon,” Joyner said in a 2016 TEDx talk in South Africa.
To that end, she and Giuffrida have been very open about their lack of interest in starting a private museum; they would rather be involved with existing institutions. Joyner serves on numerous institutional boards, including Tate, and she doesn’t join a board if she doesn’t feel she has a job to do: In 2017 she joined the board of the J. Paul Getty Trust when a giant research project on African-American art at the Getty Research Institute was in its infancy. Less than two years after she joined, the GRI publicly revealed the details of the game-changing $5 million African American Art History Initiative, along with the news that it had acquired the archives of Los Angeles artist Betye Saar.
Living artists benefit from Joyner and Giuffrida’s prowess through much more than mere acquisitions. The couple also host a residency program at their home in Sonoma, California.