October 13, 2020
On Collecting – A Conversation with Lisa Opoku

On Collecting—A Conversation with Lisa Opoku

Charlie Manzo, Director of Art Advisory, speaks with Winston client, Lisa Opoku, about her experience collecting art and the personal meaning she derives from engaging with artists and their work.

  • Lisa, thank you for speaking with me. As the art world grapples with the socio-economic impact of global pandemic COVID-19, this present moment has also fostered greater dialogue and reflection on the future of cultural promotion and methods of engagement between artists and collectors. What has struck me about your collection is that you have really cultivated a distinct voice and personal collection philosophy through the works that you collect.  
  • How did you first become interested in visual art? What are some of your earliest memories of art?

Thank you, I find it a great compliment to be called a collectorMy family is from Ghana, West Africa.  My earliest memory of art is of wood sculptures that were important symbols in African culture.  For example, fertility dolls, ceremonial masks, wooden stools made for chiefs, and family figures (mother and child, etc.)

My cousin Derek Fordjour is a phenomenal creator.  I took an early interest in art through him.  He exposed me to the world of contemporary art.  I was a very slow starter, but committed to learning.  He was patient and respectful of where I was in the journey – and remains so to this day.

  • Was anyone in your family a collector? Or did any experiences from your childhood lay the groundwork as the catalyst for your collecting?

My family collected art and appreciated design without really knowing they were collectors.  They loved beautiful creations.  African kente cloth, wooden sculpture, hand-woven baskets, beads, ceremonial gold jewelry, and beautiful interior design.  I grew up surrounded by beautiful objects that reflected my Ghanaian heritage.

I am collector now for the benefit of my children and because I want to support artists.  I want my children to grow up in a home filled with beautiful works of art, visit museums, understand and appreciate the messages that these creators are bringing with their work.  I do not want my children to think of artists as object makers, I want them to live with their work but go beyond the paintings and sculptures to understand the creative process, and messages that these artists express through their work.

  • What motivates you to collect art?

The art I collect captures messages and moments in time.  They represent living history in our home.  I enjoy spending time in a room and experiencing the creative expression of the artist in that moment.  It’s a type of meditation, and I get different messages from the work every time I look at it.  I own a piece called Rally by Derek Fordjour that was lent to the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis.  When it was gone, I missed it terribly.  That was a huge revelation to me, the art had become a meaningful part of my experience in my home.  When I entered that room, it embraced me, welcomed me, and inspired me.

  • What is your collection philosophy or guiding principle? Is there a common thread formally or conceptually among the works in your collection? If so, did that binding theme emerge organically or was it your intention at the outset?

I collect contemporary artists whose work carries a message, speaks to me, and inspires me.  In collecting a work of art, I am driven by my instincts and not by news, media, or trends.  I have been advised to buy many artist’s work who were “on the rise” as great investments for the future, but if they don’t speak to me, I am not interested in it and chose not to buy it.   I have missed many great investment opportunities with this approach but I love every piece of art I live with today.

  • What is the best collecting advice you have received?

Derek Fordjour encourages me to visit artist studios and get to know the artist as a person.  I had the privilege of visiting Nari Ward’s studio after seeing his installation at The New Museum.  His art had so much more meaning to me after hearing about his life story, from growing up in Jamaica to his life in Harlem today.  He had this incredible room in the museum filled with hundreds of strollers (in various degrees of decay)  and he shared how he got the inspiration for that work – the way in which a stroller and the quality of it represented so much about a child’s future – in the same way that we talk about zip codes defining one’s destiny.

I find that I love the art more if I am aware and exposed to the artist as person and their work process.  My very first studio visit was in Brooklyn with an amazing young artist named Yashua Klos.  I had always loved his work but hadn’t appreciated the complexity of the process.  Working from home today in COVID-19 times, I look at Yashua’s work every day and he inspires me.

  • What have been some of the most enriching aspects about the process of collecting and living with art?

I love seeing an artist find his or her voice.  They have concepts and messages they are sending.  Over time, some develop mastery in the clarity and impact of their messages and the consistent quality of their work.  I love watching, mentoring and appreciating every aspect of that development process.  When they take their work to the next level, you feel like a proud parent or sibling who has been cheering them on along the way.

  • If you were advising a young novice collector, what guidance would you give them?

Get a great artist as mentor or professional art advisor.  It’s incredibly important to be thoughtful about how the market works.  You can be a patron to the arts and a great investor at the same time, but you need great advice in order to do so.  Investing in art has the same challenges that investing in real estate or the stock market can have  – you need to understand liquidity, leadership, insurance, risk management, etc.

  • What advice would you give to emerging artists trying to get recognized during a pandemic when it’s become increasingly difficult to view art in person?

The pandemic creates a great environment to be philanthropic.  I would ask them to consider donating work to charities in exchange for strong publicity, and visibility on social media.

  • In your opinion, what is the role of the collector in today’s society?

I think collectors are a group of preservationists.  They treasure history and believe in the importance of saving and sharing the ideas and themes for future generations.