Where art and family collide

I would venture to say that there are few art collectors who allow some of their most valuable pieces to share the wall with their children’s artwork, or allow a prized collage to be partially obscured by a display of family photographs on a sideboard. But in the Franklin Street home of Bernard Lumpkin and Carmine Boccuzzi, the art — one of the most significant collections of artists of African descent — is intertwined with the souvenirs of family life. It’s on the walls, piled up in crates in the entryway, framing a Barbie townhouse or a hanging over a parked stroller.

Their approach to collecting is not only refreshing but exciting. It takes so much of the preciousness out of the idea of acquiring and living with fine art and makes it instead seem much more of a celebration.

“I am always telling the kids that art does not have to be this exalted process, or always be made from paint,” said Bernard, 51. He and Carmine have Lucy and Felix, who are 6, and Zach, 18 months. “A collection is really just a conversation, with the artists and with the materials.”

It was when his father died, in 2009, that Lumpkin first started thinking about collecting art in earnest. He saw it as a way to connect with his father’s experience as a Black man in America, especially when Lumpkin, whose mother was a Moroccan Jew, grew up “passing,” or as he says, with his identity obscured and not truly recognized.

“The conversation started with my father talking about about his upbringing and growing up in Watts,” said Bernard. “I wanted to continue to have a dialog around these issues — about family, about identity, about what it means to be an American.”

“People rarely understood me, which had its privileges and challenges, but I reached a point in my life where I wanted people to know my background and I wanted my children to understand their heritage.”

The art on the walls — above the dining table, in the bedrooms, lining the hallways — gave him a jumping off point to have those conversations with his kids and even with friends, who often did not realize he is Black.

He and Carmine have now produced a book, released in September — “Young, Gifted and Black: A New Generation of Artists” — along with a corresponding show at Lehman College, with the intent to bring the collection to the public. While it’s a wonderfully personal book, his purpose with it was largely to continue his parents’ legacy as educators, and their emphasis on the value of education. It’s what he calls his true inheritance. “I have found a way to be a teacher.”

Bernard describes Oscar Lumpkin as a man who reveled in being contrary, in confounding expectations, and for whom being Black was both a burden but also gave him a sense of pride. He wanted to prove to the world that being Black would not hold him back and at one point even moved the family to La Jolla, which in the mid-century was one of the nation’s sundown towns. His father’s message to his children then was “don’t be afraid to have that kind of freedom.”

And he and Carmine are raising their kids with that same message, and the art is part of that: “I want the children to think that there are no worlds closed to them.”

The couple moved to Tribeca in 2011, after Bernard discovered it on his runs south from Chelsea. He saw not only architecture he loved, but dozens of families on the streets and a proximity to the water that reminded him of La Jolla. “We wanted to move where it takes a village kind of thing,” Bernard says, and they never looked back. “I love Tribeca – I would never want to live anywhere else in the city let alone the world.”

The apartment afforded them all sorts of ways to display the collection, plus it can also spill over to the walls of Carmine’s law firm in Fidi. They like to live with the art at least for a while. And over time the collection has become sort of a scrapbook of the stages of life (the couple met at Yale in 1989): “With each piece you remember where you were and who you were with.”

Included are works by Henry Taylor, Kara Walker, David Hammons, Rashid Johnson, the list goes on.

Their favorite? Usually the last one they bought.



  1. Thank you for sharing your collection with us. Really beautiful, colorful and thought provoking.

  2. The collection is very well curated. It’s terrific that they have introduced their children to art at an early age.