When Karen Jenkins-Johnson opened her namesake gallery in San Francisco in 1996, she had paid witness for too long to what she called “the systemic racism that was implicit in interactions and inaction” in the art world. She entered the cultural sector with a background in business and finance, and it didn’t take long for a mission to present itself. “The more I was exposed to the art world,” she said, “the more I realized that artists of color—women in particular and Black American artists—were not well-represented and were grossly undervalued.” Ben Aronson and Scott Fraser were among the first artists to join her roster, and Jenkins Johnson Gallery now represents the likes of Ming Smith, Gordon Parks, Jae Jarrell, and Lisa Corinne Davis, as well as emerging talents like Blessing Ngobeni, Alex Jackson, and Cameron Welch.
The gallery’s reach broadened to Brooklyn in 2017 with the opening of Jenkins Johnson Projects, which, through exhibitions organized by guest curators, talks, and other programming, serves to “encourage collaboration and provide a space for dialogue,” Jenkins-Johnson said. “It’s a space that’s Black-owned, and people feel very comfortable coming and speaking their mind without feeling judged.” Some of Jenkins-Johnson’s future objectives include organizing public installations in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and, by 2022, launching an artist residency program spanning California, Oregon, and New York, all intended to present artists experimenting with “new modes to communicate and present their work.” —Claire Selvin