MEMPHIS – All eyes in the room locked in on the oversized image hanging on the wall in the Memphis Grizzlies players’ lounge, just as Elliot Perry answered someone’s question by posing another.
“What does it mean to you?” responded Perry, a Memphis native who played a decade in the NBA and is currently a Grizzlies executive. “A lot of these works challenge your imagination, your perception and what you take away from it. So, really, it’s about asking (yourself), ‘what does it mean to you?’”
Perry was speaking with players, coaches and staffers from the NBA G League’s Memphis Hustle on a recent afternoon as he guided the group through a tour of modern and contemporary African-American Art. The exhibit of nearly two dozen pieces from various artists and generations – many from a collection Perry has commissioned or purchased – was displayed in the Grizzlies lounge the past month.
Perry partnered with Chantal Hassard, Grizzlies vice president of team operations and player programs, and The Collective, a Memphis black arts group, to showcase the extensive art display. For more than a month, players and staffers with exclusive access to the lounge areas enjoyed a slice of Washington’s National Portrait Gallery or New York’s Museum of Modern Art…just outside the locker room.
The collection included works by iconic Memphis civil rights photographer Earnest Withers, former President Barack Obama portrait artist Kehinde Wiley and Carrie Mae Weems, whose work often depicts the lives and legacies of enslaved Africans and turn-of-the-century black Americans.
Perry has been collecting art and establishing relationships with preeminent contemporary African-American artists the past 20 years. His interest started in 1996 toward the end of his career as a point guard with the Phoenix Suns, where former teammate Darrell Walker shared his hobby of collecting art.
Since then, Perry has traveled the country for art shows and has built an extensive collection – something that’s become a passion in his post-playing career. Sharing those works with NBA players, coaches and staff is a mission Perry hopes to carry out for the rest of his life.
Perry's next goal is to take his collection on the road and eventually hold the unique display in players lounges throughout the NBA.
“One of the things I’ve always wanted to do was support African-American art when there wasn’t a lot of support,” Perry said. “And one thing I love about contemporary art is that I can have a relationship with these artists in real life. This work is a reflection of all of us. It’s a reflection of our journey … wins and losses. If the lord lets me to live to 80 or 90 years old, I want to tell it from my perspective.”