John and Sharon Hoffman moved into their River Market loft space in 2002, following 28 years in a house at 57th Street and Ward Parkway where they raised their family.
By ALICE THORSON
The Kansas City Star
Through it all theyve been avid art collectors, so much so that to have room to keep going, theyve sold some pieces and put others on display in their childrens homes.
Over the past decade the couple have built a major collection of contemporary African-American art.
So what prompted the decision to focus on African-American art?
SH: We were so involved with Alvin Ailey and then with (fundraising for) Barack Obama. The art fits in with our lives and the causes we believe in. It has something to say.
Kerry James Marshalls acrylic and glitter painting We Mourn Our Loss 1 (1997) was the first one. It incorporates portraits of Martin Luther King and John and Bobby Kennedy. Ted Kennedy saw it when he spoke in our loft for Barack.
The second piece we acquired was this seven-panel embroidered wall piece by Nick Cave. The images include a cotton boll, a chained foot, and allusions to vaudeville and Black Power.
It was done during his transition from fashion design to the Soundsuits. Its one of the strongest things hes ever done.
Tell me about this enormous Kehinde Wiley in the living room.
SH: Its like my grandchild. (Nerman Museum director) Bruce Hartman originally put us on to Kehinde Wiley, and we went to New York and saw Wileys show at Jeffrey Deitch gallery. Neither one of us could breathe.
But they were all sold. The day I flew to New York for the birth of my grandson, Chicago art dealer Rhona Hoffman called and said, Ive sold the first three to museums. You have your choice of the remaining three.
I remember seeing a rhinestone-acrylic painting by Mickalene Thomas in the Kemper Museums Pattern ID show in 2012. Yours features portraits in a gridded format.
JH: The nine women in the piece were featured in Melvin Van Peebles film Sweet Sweetbacks Baadasssss Song, an important film about blacks coming of age in entertainment. This is also her homage to Warhol.
What is the story behind this painting that hangs upside down?
SH: Its by Titus Kaphar, an artist who went to Yale with Mickalene. Hes known for doing torn canvases with tar, a reference to blacks being tarred and feathered. Our painting, of a white general with a black hand, is meant to hang so the face is upside down, but the hand is upright. Its called Revolution/Revolution.
Theres a lot of black history embedded in your collection.
JH: Our Gary Simmons piece keys off an old poster from the Joe Louis/Max Schmeling fight, which was so important to white supremacists who were against African-Americans. You can see a red rivulet that looks like blood dripping down the picture.
I thought that framed fire hose was one of the lofts safety features.
JH: Theaster Gates did the coiled fire hose in the vitrine. Its a reference to Selma. He also did that Shoeshine light box next to the Kehinde Wiley painting.
Shoeshine is part of the piece he showed in the 2010 Whitney Biennial in New York. It was all about shoeshine and barbershops, where black men gather to discuss everything. We let him stay in our New York apartment while he was installing the show.
I see black garbage bags and I think of David Hammons.
JH: Nathaniel Donnett also works with garbage bags. In our piece he combined them with the cautionary tape that police use, in a reference to police treatment of African-Americans. He also makes work using brown paper bags, alluding to the idea that in black society if youre darker than a brown paper bag, you have lower social status.
You said youve also begun collecting African art?
JH: The large painting over the sofa is by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Her parents are from Ghana, and she grew up in London. Shes been short-listed for the (Tate Britains) 2013 Turner Prize. Her paintings are all about imaginary people. In ours, the women stepping from stone to stone could suggest movement from one continent to another.
You have many Obama-themed pieces.
JH: Chuck Close did the portrait of Barack from the 2012 election.
The photograph of Barack and his bodyguard, Reggie, in a blurred-out crowd is by Larry Fink, from his series on the 08 campaign for Vanity Fair.
Hank Willis Thomas did the connect-the-dot portrait of Michelle right after the election. Connect the dots to see who shes going to be. Thomas also did the Absolut No Return piece hanging next to our front door. The photo you see through the bottles outline is of Goree Island off Senegal, a departure point for African slaves.