rodney millerTHE SUMMER 2014 ISSUE OF ARTNEWS features its annual list of top art collectors in the world. The issue also profiles collector Rodney M. Miller, whose Upper East Side townhouse is filled with modern and contemporary African American and African diasporic art.

A member of the acquisitions committee at the Studio Museum in Harlem, where he also serves as treasurer, Miller has acquired works by Romare Bearden, Beauford Delaney, Alma Thomas, Richard Hunt and Jack Whitten, as well as Lorna Simpson, Odili Donald Odita, Glenn Ligon, Carrie Mae Weems, Kerry James Marshall and Shinique Smith, among many others.

Serving as a museum trustee has its perks. Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, came to Miller’s home and oversaw the installation of his collection last year. The senior managing director of J.P. Morgan’s mergers and acquisitions group plans to continue enlisting curators to hang his art. ARTNews reports that former National Gallery of Art curator Ruth Fine will have a turn next year, followed by artist Senam Okudzeto, who serves on the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Arts in Society at the World Economic Forum.

“Miller’s collection today numbers some 200 works. He remains on the lookout for important pieces by Jacob Lawrence, Kara Walker, and Chris Ofili—what he considers ‘glaring omissions’ in his collection.” — ARTNews

EARLIER THIS YEAR, MILLER SHARED the story about guest curating his home during an hour-long conversation with Fine at the National Gallery of Art (audio below). The event was a part of the Washington, D.C. museum’s The Collecting of African American Art series and the wide ranging discussion covered Miller’s introduction to the art world (two decades ago he attended a Sotheby’s event with a colleague), how much he favors paintings, the artists he is particularly akin to, that he is an avid collector of art books, and how he values and learns from the relationships he has cultivated with both artists and curators, such as Golden, Franklin Sirmans and Helen Molesworth at ICA Boston, who introduced him to Weems’s work.


Collector Rodney M. Miller in conversation with curator Ruth Fine at the National Gallery of Art on Feb. 9, 2014.


At the National Gallery event, Miller says he built a new house, with walls backed by plywood to facilitate the display of his art collection and Golden “did the first hanging.” It seems like it only took her 10 minutes, he marvels, before she determined where everything should go and it turned out beautiful.

He estimates that on a daily basis he lives with 15 to 20 percent of his collection, and while his home is “treated like a museum setting” with a humidification system and a rear facade composed of UV resistant glass, it remains a family space. He recounts the time his son threw a ball that “just missed the William H. Johnson,” but confides nothing has been damaged yet.


Rodney Miller loaned “Untitled (Colored People Grid),” 2009-10 (11 pigment ink prints and 31 colored clay papers) for the exhibition “Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video.” This detail of the work is from page 75 the 280-page catalog published to coincide with the 2013-14 show.


Miller loans works from his collection for exhibitions. He contributed the 2008 painting “Study for Visible Means of Support: Monticello” to last year’s “In the Tower: Kerry James Marshall” show at the National Gallery of Art. Two of his works—”Untitled (Colored People Grid)” and “In De Sica’s Light-Ancient Rome”—were included in “Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video,” the traveling exhibition that concluded at the Guggenheim in May 2014. And two Norman Lewis works owned by Miller will be featured in a retrospective of the abstractionist’s work, curated by Fine, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts opening November 2015.

“If you ask me where my heart is, I’d actually say it’s in the Bearden’s, and the Lewis’s and the Alma Thomas’s.”
— Rodney M. Miller at the National Gallery of Art

A self-described “big, big, big fan of painting,” Miller believes a true collection should have representation across a range of mediums, toward that end, he also owns photography (including Gordon Parks, Hank Willis Thomas and Lyle Ashton Harris) and is on a mission to acquire more video and sculpture.

During the conversation at the National Gallery, Miller says that once he hired a registrar he realized he was indeed a collector, but considers himself more of a “cultural custodian.” He has never sold a work and he expects that save a few requests from his children the bulk of his collection will eventually go to museums. CT


TOP IMAGE: Detail of Rodney M. Miller with Shinique Smith’s “Message” in 2010 | by Caroline Voagen Nelson via ARTNews


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