A Conversation Between Najee Dorsey and Founder of the Black Fine Art Fair of Ohio, Keith Golden
The inaugural Black Fine Arts Fair of Ohio—created by Art by Golden/Golden Galleries LLC and hosted by the KBK Foundation—is this Thursday, November 11th through Sunday, November 14th. Black Art in America will be present, along with a host of other Black galleries and Black artists.
This fair is our homecoming. It takes us back to the Black shows where we commune with each other, share our culture with each other, and support each other. Everyone references Black Wall Street, but this is Black Wall Street. This is us bringing the material to the people and presenting space all on our own and making things happen. This is the tradition, and it’s a celebratory time. Any time that we can do our own thing for ourselves, it’s time to celebrate.
If anyone understands that, it’s Keith Golden. Founder of the Black Fine Arts Fair of Ohio, Keith is a pioneer in African-American Fine Art Publishing. He’s an educator, investor, purveyor of African-American Art with over 30 years’ experience, and not only a peer of but also a friend to Najee Dorsey. With the show getting closer and closer, Najee threw a couple questions at Keith to show who he is and to share what’s going on behind the scenes of the show, what inspired it, and what it means for the culture.
Here’s a peek into that conversation.
Keith: My grandmother would say, “Oh, the devil, he ain’t gon’ be able to make it. You know something good about to happen now. He don’ showed hisself.”
Najee: The enemy can’t control this one. It’s divine providence.
Najee: Events like the Black Fine Arts Show of Ohio is the foundation of all the interest in African-American art, people going to all these fairs, and different galleries popping up to show the material. This is where we come from. It’s the Black gallerists finding space, creating opportunities, and showcasing the works of our artists to our people. This is taking it back in the day.
Keith: With no drama.
Najee: I don’t know. A little drama might be part of the culture.
Keith: (laughs) I woke up this morning, and the magnitude of what’s taking place hit me. Out of nowhere, my cousin Tony popped into my mind and said “You’re in the ocean now. You better swim.” I laughed because it’s exactly what he would’ve said. Ain’t no time for fear. Then my mind turned to being grateful. God got me on this one. He always does, but now I see it. So I have to get my mind ready, remain humble, and do for the people. That’s where I am right now. I’m at a place of gratefulness, recognizing that it’s not me. It’s God first and it’s us working together as a village. I have 15 people on my team who I’m bringing here. I remember at one time struggling for a few dollars just to get a booth, let alone talk about building walls, doing all of this advertising, paying for hotels and Airbnb‘s. And I don’t feel fearful; I’m not afraid.
Najee: What are you most looking forward to?
Keith: I’m looking forward to letting everyone in to see that this is who has been supporting you all along. This is who has been pushing you to the forefront, right here. I want the artists that you engage with and the people that you are helping to understand where it comes from, where we come from. I remember when you first started, we used to talk day and night about the things you wanted to do with Black Art in America. To watch it come to fruition has just blessed me. I’m proud of you and I know God’s hand is on you.
Najee: Man, I appreciate that and I appreciate you. The first art show that we did in New York for Black Art in America, you were there. That was our first production. People want to be a part of something, they want to be inspired, they want to know how we began. We are the ones who are keeping the tradition alive.
Keith: We are built to preserve our culture and to submit our legacy. One of the ways to do that, outside of speaking about it and telling people about the history of where we came from and who we are as a people, is to use imagery. Imagery has been the strongest source of showing what a group of people are about, since the beginning of time. When you look back in the Dark Ages, and you see some of the information that they’ve been able to prove historically as fact, it’s because they used imagery.
So when you talk about African and African-American culture and history, imagery is one of the strongest resources to be able to prove that it’s true what we’re talking about. When you do that, now you’re preserving the culture by teaching—not just the youth but anyone who does not know—what this culture was built on and what they need to understand. And what better way to do that than with imagery? That’s one part.Once you establish that and you educate people about your culture, now that you’re into the fine art room, use fine art to show that this is what we’ve been doing all along. This is why people are wanting this culture. It’s because they see the authenticity. People want to spend money on things that are authentic and true. They don’t want fake. They look at this African-American fine art and know that is real, they know that it’s true. From a business perspective, it’s still in its emergence stage.
Some people say, “Man, that’s a lot for that piece.” But it’s not. When you look at a Sam Gilliam and you compare it to a Jackson Pollock, because they were peers, and you look at the depth and the breath of their work, you begin to understand. Jackson Pollock did what he did without a guide, but the same for Sam Gilliam. That was a man who was true to his craft for over 50 years and his work should be celebrated. There’s no way you should be able to get one of these major Sam Gilliam pieces for under $50,000. There’s no way. The only reason you can, however, is because there’s a lack of education about who he is, what he means to our society, and what he means to the culture. If you want your legacy to be strong, you have to know where you came from, you have to know who you are currently, and you need to know your value. That’s really what I want to do in this realm.
I want to work with my peers, that’s number one. Number two: I want to support emerging artists so they’ll have a great footing that can’t be stolen, because they know their value and they’ve been informed about who they are and what they have. People from all over the world, Asia especially, buy Richard Mayhew and Sam Gilliam’s work in droves when they can find them. They’ve studied the artists and know their work is valuable. These buyers know that once the people in the culture wake up and figure out who these artists are, they’re going to be looking for it. And who’s going to have it? That’s the truth.
Najee: It’s also important for people to realize that this is a continuum of art and culture. It didn’t begin with the Harlem Renaissance and it hasn’t ended. It’s a continuing of people mark-making and making statements, concepts, and ideas. We have new artists coming up in the pipeline, and they have access to them today.
Keith: That’s the other piece. When I talk about the support level, it’s not just the historical legacy work. I think of the emerging and mid-career artists as well. That’s the reason that the show was positioned like it was. Take how I met Kevin Nance-West, for instance. I was at the barbershop at home in Denver. This was about two months ago. My barber asked to see some new art, so I showed some pieces on my iPad. He asked me how much they cost, I told him, and he laughed. “Stop lying! You know damn well ain’t nobody paying that!” I pointed out three pieces that had already sold. A guy walked over and asked what I do. I told him that I’m a fine art publisher and art dealer. “Man, I have a cousin,” he started. I said, “Stop right there. Everybody has a cousin that can draw with some crayons.”
Everyone starts laughing and we’re all joking. He showed me his cousin’s work on his phone and I admitted that he was talented. “He’s a young guy,” the brother in front of me said, “He’s trying to find his way. Can you call him and just speak to him? I don’t know if he’s on your level though.” I said, “I don’t have a level. I’m just who I am. It’s not about levels.” He gave me his cousin’s information and I reached out. I learned about his vision for himself and his family and said, “You know what? I was going to give one of these booths [at the Black Fine Arts Fair] to somebody. Why not him? I found him a sponsor to pay for his booth, somewhere to lay his head, and eat. I also arranged for someone to help him put his work up, the whole nine. My only rule was that he don’t sell the work he’s creating right now before the show. “You have to develop a body of work and you have to have some discipline. You can’t let the dollars get in the way on the front side, because you’ll end up with some of the lesser work. Everything you create won’t be your best. That’s just the way that it is. Develop this work with the energy that you got right now.”
Keith: That’s how I embrace what I see in someone that’s emerging—not just sell their work but show them how it goes. It’s not just about selling a piece of art. You have to know how to put it on the walls, you have to have labels. No one showed me this when I started out. It was all trial and error. Imagine if someone had done that for you at that level, without [financially] busting your head wide open.
Najee: My first show was at Underground Atlanta in 2005. I didn’t have a booth. I didn’t have no walls. I had a pop-up tent and hung up art with fishing lines.
Keith: There’s a whole contingent of folk that the academic world says we should have our eye on. I think that’s good, but there’s also people like Kevin Nance-West. No one of “note” or “importance” put their own hands on him to say he’s great, but now he gets an opportunity to be in that realm. I’ve already sold five or six of his pieces, but I didn’t even let the people get them. I said I don’t even want your money yet. You’re gonna have to be at the show. If not, then you won’t get it. I want the show to be so full of buzz that people will know that this is on a whole ‘nother level. Not just for me, but for us.
That’s what I want.
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