Art Collector Questionnaire

Meet Khalil Kinsey, the Collector Who Outbid Sheryl Lee Ralph at Auction When He Was Only 12 Years Old

Khalil Kinsey and his family at home. Painting in center: Alexander Calder, Balloons, 1968. All photography by Kort Havens and courtesy of Kinsey.

Like a scene out of Abbott Elementary, Khalil Kinsey outbid Sheryl Lee Ralph for an artwork when he was only 12 years old. It was a watercolor by Phoebe Beasley titled As Violence and the first piece of art he acquired. 

Growing up surrounded by art—attending fairs, auctions, and exhibitions with his parents Bernard and Shirley, who founded the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection—the younger Kinsey is well-versed in the quirks of the market, and in fostering preservation efforts for work by Black Americans. Today, the Los Angeles-based curator is the COO and creative director of his parents' foundation, long nourished by their decades of travel and investment in illuminating the culture they encountered. 

Recently, Kinsey also launched Context Projects alongside fellow curators Chace Johnson and Jason Brown. Building on the success of the world-touring Kinsey collection, the initiative’s mission is to spotlight forthcoming changemakers, achieved through an LA gallery outpost that serves as a hub for programming. Currently, Afro-Surrealist collage and illustrative artist Dakarai Akil is taking over the space. For Kinsey, Context Projects is yet another avenue to continue the work his parents began, and here, he shares how he was enticed into the fold. 

Where does the story of your personal collection begin? And what was it like growing up in a family so embedded in the arts?

When I look back on it, I’ve been collecting in one way or another since I was a kid: skate and hip hop mags, pins, comic books, autographs, T-shirts, sneakers. Travel has always been the bedrock of discovery for my family, and I was blessed to see the world young. Galleries and museum experiences were a constant part of my life. Our home was filled with art everywhere, and as art patrons, my parents would host receptions and exhibitions introducing their collector friends to artists they supported.

What is the first piece you ever bought yourself?

I was with my parents at a fundraiser gala and auction in 1989. I was 12. During the auction, there was a painting that came up that I instantly fell in love with and excitedly turned to my parents in hopes that they would bid on it. To my surprise, Pop gave me the paddle and told me to start bidding. As soon as I raised the paddle and put in the first bid, someone across the room countered it.

We went back and forth for a while and I think someone told the person bidding against me that I was a kid, and they let it go. The painting was a 1975 watercolor by Phoebe Beasley titled As Violence, and the person that I was bidding against was the actress Sheryl Lee Ralph. To this day, it’s still my favorite piece.

Which work in your home provokes the most conversation from visitors?

I’d say some standouts are the original 1968 Black Panther Party poster, Phoebe Beasley's As Violence, Salim Green's Untitled, and Foreign Exchange by Damien Carter aka SlauCienega. I anticipate that our most recent acquisition will garner great conversations; it’s by Jamil Baldwin and titled The continuum of something that no longer exists. It looks like it could be a metal or glass wall sculpture, but it is actually a 20-foot long c-print that was printed as an experiment and defies convention. Not only is it a visually stunning piece, but the story behind it and the installation all make for a truly remarkable work. It still stops me in my tracks every time I see it.

Painting on left wall: Salim Green, Untitled, 2021.

Which artists are you currently most excited about?

In no particular order: Jamil Baldwin, Shaniqwa Jarvis, Salim Green, Jerrell Gibbs, Sydney Cain, Mike Reesé, Nikkolos Mohammed, Haili Francis, Al-Baseer Holly, Will Maxen, Damien Carter, Freeman Revival, Kohshin Finley/The Finley Family, Tofer Chin, Nehemiah Cisneros.

What factors do you consider when expanding your collection?

Do we love it? What kind of energy does it carry/bring? What dimensions does it add? Can we afford it? What space will it occupy?

What was the most challenging piece in your personal collection to acquire?

Shout out to Sheryl Lee Ralph.

Your Context Projects mission statement reads that you are dedicated to "authentic storytelling through art." How do you weave these narratives into the presentations you put together?

Context Projects was founded on the same core values that we work with in the Kinsey Collection and Foundation. We are a gallery and boutique agency that endeavors to document and preserve African American culture and contribution in the arts. We present each artist and their work within a broader scope of history and narrative that honors our humanity and accurately reflects our experiences.

What was your biggest influence in fostering your passion for art?

I was fortunate to grow up in a home that was not only filled with art, but also with many of the artists that created it. Also, arts professionals, writers and authors, actors, musicians and incredible business people who were all like family. These people engaged my inquisitiveness, encouraged my creativity and supported my ideas. All around me there were examples of ways to live artfully.

What feelings would you like your collection to inspire in the people who experience it?

We want it to be rich in spirit and movement, to be layered and nuanced but still inviting. We want it to feel like home.