LOS ANGELES — Culture and sport occupy discrete spheres in contemporary society, each with their own dedicated temples: museums and stadiums, respectively. But at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, the two share the same space, with a pair of exhibitions focused on African-American art and history unfolding throughout the second-level mezzanine — just steps from the roaring crowds at the largest stadium in the NFL, home to the Rams and the Chargers.
Highlights from the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection have been on view for the past year, including objects and artworks spanning hundreds of years. Assembled by Bernard and Shirley Kinsey over the past five decades, the collection showcases work by African-American artists dating back to 1865 alongside historical documents and photos chronicling Black life from the late 16th century through the present day. These include a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, letters written by Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and a first edition of W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk. An 1854 letter written from one enslaver to another painfully and bluntly illustrates the inhumanity of a system that treated people as property. Carried by an enslaved woman named Frances, the letter explains that she was sold, and torn from her family, to pay for horses and a stable.
Nearby sits the inaugural address of the second president of Mexico, Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldana, believed to have been Afro-Mexican, who abolished slavery in Mexico in 1829. It is a reminder of the relative freedom that existed just south of the border.
Against this backdrop of trauma, struggle, and cultural resilience, the collection surveys over 150 years of African-American art. It spans the gamut from the work of figurative artists Elizabeth Catlett, Charles White, and Ernie Barnes to abstractions by Sam Gilliam, William T. Williams, and Ed Pratt. As a whole, the exhibition shows that African-American Art is American Art, not an offshoot of it, and intrinsically linked to the nation’s social, political, and cultural history.
Last August, the Kinsey Collection at SoFi Stadium was joined by Continuum, a group show featuring 23 contemporary artists of color co-curated by Khalil Kinsey and Rick Garzon, director of Residency Art Gallery in Inglewood. It extends the story begun with the Kinsey Collection, which is stronger in art of the 20th century than the 21st. Garzon told Hyperallergic that the curators focused on emerging artists who are “making noise in the art world right now” alongside mid-career and more established names. Some of those noisemakers include Patrick Martinez, whose neon signs immortalize the words of MLK and Marvin Gaye; Troy Lamarr Chew II, whose paintings incorporate African textile designs with icons of Black culture; and Yasmine Nasser Diaz, whose intricately cut paper collages investigate the facets of interwoven identities.
SoFi Stadium is just the latest of nearly 40 venues that have hosted the Kinsey Collection since 2006. “This isn’t our first rodeo in terms of left of center activations,” says Khalil Kinsey, the COO and chief curator of the collection and the son of Bernard and Shirley. Various versions of the current presentation have been shown at cultural institutions such as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and Pepperdine University’s Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art as well as less conventional sites including Disney’s Epcot Center and American Airlines airport lounges around the country.
“This is an example of meeting people through the lens of everyday experiences,” Khalil Kinsey told Hyperallergic.
Links between generations are illuminated as with Mike Reesé’s elegiac “Tears of Joy (Ellis)” (2019), a densely layered abstraction made from taxidermy, resin, and automotive flake that recalls Howardena Pindell’s hole-punch paintings; Jaimie Milner’s 2015 photograph of the late assemblage pioneer John Outterbridge leaning out the window of his car, smiling; and “Barbershop: Two Good Friends” (1991) by veteran painter George Evans, which captures an establishment that has a deep significance within African-American life. Lyndon Barrois Sr. offers a whimsical nod to the venue’s purpose with “19 (Depicting Nineteen Historic LA Rams Players From 1946-2022),” small effigies crafted from gum wrappers, visible through magnifying lenses.
The goal of accessibility and inclusion that brought the Kinsey Collection to SoFi Stadium does come with some compromises. Viewers must contend with the site’s narrowness (compared to most museum galleries) and a glare on the plexiglass covering unframed works, exacerbated by large glowing orbs on the ground. During games or other events, the exhibition is only accessible to those with VIP tickets; otherwise, tickets cost $15 ($12 for Inglewood residents) for art tours on Friday and Saturday afternoons. A portion of proceeds from ticket sales goes towards the Hollywood Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports youth programs focused on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education.
A representative for SoFi Stadium told Hyperallergic via email that “over 15,000 guests have bought tickets to tour the Collection, but hundreds of thousands have viewed the collection via stadium tours, sporting events, concerts, and private events.” They added that approximately 5,000 students from the Inglewood Unified School District and other nonprofit organizations have toured the exhibitions. (By comparison, LACMA had 621,000 visitors in 2021, according to the Art Newspaper’s Visitor Figures Survey.)
For Kinsey, the venue allows different groups of people from those who frequent traditional cultural institutions to see the art.
“We want to serve as an example to institutions and venues that we can think differently about arts and culture everyday,” Khalil Kinsey told Hyperallergic. “I see it every time I go to a game or a concert. [People are] captivated by something hanging on the wall. They go over, sit with it, maybe miss a few plays in the game to see more of it. That’s what’s exciting. You’re touching people in different ways.”
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