Love of art, basketball

NBA's Grant Hill brings his collection to Morgan

ArtReview

September 23, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

In a blue room with an orange bedstead and a gray wooden floor, a woman disrobes for the evening by the glow of a flickering kerosene lamp.

The room is sparsely furnished: a chair and table, a battered dresser and a pot-bellied stove in one corner. On the wall opposite the bed, a rust-colored guitar hangs from a peg.

This is the scene depicted in artist Romare Bearden's magical collage The Evening Guitar, one of more than 40 works in a marvelous exhibition titled Something All Our Own: The Grant Hill Collection of African-American Art, on display at Morgan State University's James E. Lewis Museum of Art.

Sports fans may not know that Grant Hill, who for more than a decade has been a star NBA player with the Detroit Pistons and the Orlando Magic, is also a passionate art collector, an avocation not normally associated with professional athletes. (Hill, who lives in Orlando, Fla., has been benched for most of the past four seasons recovering from a series of ankle surgeries.)

Part of the explanation lies in the fact that Hill, 31, grew up surrounded by art, much of it collected by his professional athlete father, Baltimore native Calvin Hill, who played football for the legendary Dallas Cowboys during the 1970s.

During his travels with the team, the elder Hill purchased many works by African, African-American, Asian and Native artists, and he passed along his enthusiasm for art to Grant by taking him to galleries and museums on a regular basis.

"For years prior to college, we had our father-and-son time together each year at the Final Four," Grant Hill recalls in the catalog that accompanies the exhibition. Hill, who will be in Baltimore today for an invitation-only reception, recalled that "at each location, my dad pushed me into galleries and museums to absorb unique expressions of artistic talent."

Though at first he resisted such excursions, Hill eventually came to treasure those early experiences.

"The environment in which we live, especially the environment of our youth, influences the direction we take in life," Hill writes. "My father, who shared the stories of his youth and the development of his collection, was especially instrumental and inspirational in my decision to collect African-American art for my own home and family."

Another reason for Hill's collecting passion is his fervent belief in the inspirational power of art and its importance as a record of African-American achievement in fields other than sports and entertainment.

"More people know Grant Hill than know Romare Bearden, yet Bearden's career had a longer shelf life and more productivity than that of any professional athlete," Hill notes, adding that Elizabeth Catlett, another artist in his collection, "is still creating in her 80s."

As exemplary individuals and cultural heroes, artists like Bearden and Catlett "give us courage to go on," Hill says. "We are constantly refreshed in our understanding of who we are, what we have endured, what we have overcome, and how much our contributions mean to American life and culture."

Hill's collection includes more than a dozen works on paper by Bearden, a like number of drawings, prints and sculpture by Catlett, as well as works by Hughie Lee-Smith, Malcolm Brown, John Biggers, Phoebe Beasley, Arthello Beck Jr. and John Coleman, a little-known but fascinating self-taught Texas artist whose unpretentious domestic scenes Hill calls "an extension of everyday life itself."

Exhibit

What: Something All Our Own: The Grant Hill Collection of African-American Art

Where: James E. Lewis Museum, Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center on the campus of Morgan State University, 2201 Argonne Drive

When: Through Nov. 30

Hours: Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.; closed Monday

Call: 443-885-3030

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