Kenneth Montague, Owner of the Wedge Collection, Visits the Nasher Museum

27 September 2011 (this is a blog post I wrote after Kenneth Montague, owner of the Wedge Collection and curator for the Becoming Exhibition, came to speak)

As a dentist who began collecting art in an attempt to answer the question ‘Who am I,’ Kenneth Montague’s humble origins make the art he collects particularly relatable. This question of self stemmed from an endless identity battle that began as he grew up in one of only a few black families in the border town of Windsor, Canada. Ken is also co-curator and lending collector of the exhibition Becoming: Photographs from the Wedge Collection, which runs from August 11 to January 8.

When Ken came to speak with Trevor Schoonmaker, the curator of contemporary art, on Tuesday night, he shared a bit of his past to contextualize his passion for art. The first memorable photograph for him was Couple in Raccoon Coats (1932) by James VanDerZee, which is now in the show. VanDerZee’s work put Ken’s burgeoning collection and commercial gallery, the one he began in his loft in Toronto, on the map in 1999. Ken is notorious for forming friendships with the artists whose work appears in his collection, because as he says one can “really truly understand what’s behind the artistic practices when you meet the artist.”

Becoming is divided into thematic groupings, which Ken notes will help the ultimate goal of telling a story, which he has always prized over selling a work in his gallery. Ken’s collection is about identity, and though the African diaspora is highly present correlating to Ken’s own background, it is not just about black identity. He notes that he is attracted to art that speaks to identity; in the case of photographs, this often refers to the moment of transition when one’s sense of self is changing.

At the end of the talk, Ken gifted Motorcycle Riders (c.1960) by Henry Clay Anderson, one of the photographs that appeared in the exhibition, to the Nasher. Ken described this photograph, taken in the small Mississippi town of Greenville in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, as people “making something out of nothing, creating lives with beauty,” an idea that seems to encompass and define the entirety of Becoming.