The Nerman family adopted an unusual way of doing business years ago: Find, Secure, and Share. It’s a family of art collectors, starting with the late Jerry and Margaret who started the tradition before WWII, and Lewis and Sue are leading the way now.
“I feel joy when we get the job, but I also feel equal joy in sharing. I really do, ”says Lewis Nerman.
They are the Nermans from the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College.
For them, collecting art is partly a matter of research, the thrill of the hunt; Lewis and Sue have collected hundreds of disparate pieces from all over the world during their lifetime, and now they are also responsible for the collection of the older Nermans. When asked, they declined to answer how many jobs in total.
Prior to Jerry Nerman’s deployment to France during WWII, he and Margaret hung artwork from old calendars on their walls. During the war, he posted street art at home, which has been lost in time. Once they had the wherewithal to successfully found and run Arrow Truck Sales, the older Nermans began to collect seriously, teaching their children the thrill.
But just as exciting as the hunt is sharing the work.
The joy of sharing
Most often, sharing has taken the form of opening their homes to art enthusiasts or lending pieces to national and international galleries. Currently, three pieces from their personal collection are on loan to the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which are simultaneously organizing a retrospective on Jasper Johns.
But what the Nermans haven’t done so far is publicly show off an organized part of their collection. Until October 17, the Kansas City Art Institute Gallery is presenting “All Things Being Equal”, 16 works presented by 12 artists.
Sue and Lewis Nerman came up with the title themselves, then worked with curator and gallery director Michael Schonoff to determine which pieces to include.
Once the couple decided to show work by artists of color, the title was easy.
Sue says, “We mean that no matter who the artist is, there is no difference between art by artists of color and art by artists of anything.”
Lewis steps in to clarify and says, “When you walk into our house, you see Jasper Johns, and you see [Robert] Rauschenberg, and you see Chuck Close and all these very famous people. And then hung next to these pieces, there are these pieces that are in this show. “
The 12 artists featured are terrific and include Nick Cave, Kerry James Marshall, Hank Willis and Fred Wilson.
“Work by artists of color or any under-represented group, we can’t show enough,” says Schonoff. “I think there is so much work to be done there. And I think it builds on momentum, both what’s going on at school, locally, regionally, nationally, that sort of thing.
One of the most recent pieces in the Nerman collection is the 2019 “Black Rain” by Fred Wilson.
Schonoff explains that Wilson became famous by looking at cultural objects, especially as part of the black experience, and “reframe the story and positioning them all in a different way, looking at colonialism, looking at it. ‘slavery. It had never been done before in a museum, and it really changed what collections are and how we look at them. “
Schonoff says Wilson created a new narrative with items people weren’t used to seeing.
“Black Rain” is a continuation of this line of thought, and although it is more “poetic”, as Schonoff puts it, than some of Wilson’s previous work, the idea is the same: to encourage viewers to extrapolate the meaning based on their own experiences, the context of the show, or any other way they might contextualize it in their own lives.
Lewis says he and Sue didn’t bring in advisers to build their collection, but went to the work they loved piece by piece.
He says, “I think each of these pieces holds up very well to these particular artists. Each has their own unique message. I hope people will come and see it and appreciate it as much as we do.
“All things being equal: Selections from the Nerman Collection” at the Kansas City Art Institute Gallery through Sunday, October 17 at 4415 Warwick Blvd, Kansas City, MO 64111. Free and open to the public by registration.