The year 2020 is marked by the major socio-political shifts enforced by the coronavirus pandemic, still very much present across the world. During the lockdown and in accordance with the safety measures, numerous exhibition spaces have restricted their activity and moved to the virtual space. Despite the difficult working conditions, the economic downfall, and numerous other factors related to the meditation and reception of art, some art figures have managed to sustain and even obtain ground-breaking shifts.
One of them is the 25-year-old Destinee Ross-Sutton, a New York-born art manager, art adviser, curator, and muse whose astounding activity focused on the matter of representation of Black artists has marked the passing year. She has fought through and used the current momentum of increased racial tension in America to spread awareness and support the African American and artists from African diaspora by persuading the collectors in the US, Europe, and Asia to change the rule of the game.
For the engaged boldness and firmness to alter the art world in favor of the ones who have been and still are oppressed, we decided to speak about Destinee Ross-Sutton as the Widewalls Person of the Year 2020.
Destinee Ross-Sutton studied journalism at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn. At a certain point, she focused more on visual arts after learning about the power art can have in a photography class. Before Ross-Sutton immersed fully into the advancing and curating, she volunteered at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art in New York and was lucky to offer her insights in how to shape the exhibitions as she learned a lot about the position of Black artists in the art world.
In 2018, Ross-Sutton came into the contemporary art world by co-curating a pop-up show at Frieze New York focused on the representation of women of color. She then spent the year to follow exploring and showcasing art on her Instagram feed.
In Spring 2020, she organized an exhibition titled Black Voices/Black Microcosms at the CFHILL gallery in Stockholm that has been immediately noticed internationally. It featured a total of 30 emerging Black contemporary artists, including the ones such as Amoako Boafo, Rashaad Newsome, David Shrobe, and Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe. Michael Elmenbeck, the CFHILL’s chief curator, reached out to Ross-Sutton via her Instagram, and despite the travel bans and other complications caused by the pandemic, the young curator seamlessly organized the exhibition from afar.
A few months later, Ross-Sutton was approached by Christie’s after the famous auction house learned about her advocacy. Under their CSR Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives, she curated a virtual auction exhibition Say it Loud that featured 40 works by 22 emerging and mid-career Black artists. Interestingly so, the young curator demanded that all the artists receive 100 percent of the proceeds of the sale of their work which is not a usual practice in the auction world. Led by Audre Lorde’s quote "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation," Ross-Sutton gathered the works to address the current situation and the urgency for solidarity especially in the terms of race.
The Christie’s sale was such a success for Ross-Sutton's enormous efforts to protect Black artists from speculative buyers by conducting carefully crafted sales agreements. Inspired by the Projansky Agreement, made in 1971 as a legal document for the protection of artists’ rights over their works, Ross-Sutton created the terms under which 15 percent of all resale proceeds will return to the artist, no auction resales will transpire for three to five years; and artists retain the right of refusal for that period in case of a private sale.
Recently, Destinee Ross-Sutton also openly criticized the tendencies of flipper collectors to indicate their strategy of buying the works of rising artists and quickly selling them for huge sums as their market value increases.
The career of a muse of artists like Amoako Boafo, Kehinde Wiley, and Derrick Adams, seems to be growing fast, as Ross-Sutton was reached to curate the art for the photoshoot of the September 2020 cover of InStyle magazine featuring Zendaya. Her unstoppable energy is soon to have another outburst as Ross-Sutton is preparing her own VR gallery, as well as a non-profit organization called Black Artist Collective.
Speaking of Ross-Sutton's own projects, December 19, the inaugural exhibition of a new exhibition space at 155 Wooster Street in SoHo has opened. The aptly named Ross-Sutton Gallery proudly presents Black Voices: Friend of My Mind, a show featuring 31 emerging Black artists (including the auction sensation Amoako Boafo). The show is on view until January 8, 2021.
The enormous and quick success is the result of her socially charged agenda based on affirmation and coming together approach. The struggle for equality has to be ongoing in a moment of great political turmoil, and art is an important field where young people can enforce changes. For that and all the above-mentioned reasons, Destinee Ross-Sutton is a bright example of decisiveness and positivity that are much needed in a time of crisis.
Featured image: Destinee Ross-Sutton. Image via Instagram.