Football Champion Malcolm Jenkins on the Sport of Art Collecting and Scoring His First Basquiat

Jenkins was one of several players to commission the Hank Willis Thomas sculpture at this year's Super Bowl.

Malcolm Jenkins with Khari Turner's Bike Like (2022). Courtesy of Malcolm Jenkins.

Throughout the 2010s, Malcolm Jenkins established himself as one of football’s greatest defensive players. He won two Super Bowl championships during his 13-year NFL career, the first in New Orleans when he played for the Saints, and again in Philadelphia, playing for the Eagles. To his off-field achievements as a racial-justice advocate, entrepreneur, published author, and philanthropist, he recently added a new role: art collector.

Jenkins has immersed himself in the art world since retiring from football in 2022 at the age of 35. He began spending time at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, which led to his first purchase, a Basquiat print. He then acquired pieces by Ernie Barnes, Kari Turner, and Tavares Strachan. Recently, Jenkins was one of several players to help commission the Hank Willis Thomas sculpture that touched down at this year’s Super Bowl in Arizona.

Hank Willis Thomas, Opportunity (Reflection), 2023 at the Great Lawn at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas.

Hank Willis Thomas, Opportunity (Reflection) (2023) at the Great Lawn at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas.

Jenkins is most interested in works from the African diaspora. “I want my collection to reflect the diversity of styles, mediums, and subjects within the Black experience, showcasing a range of voices and perspectives,” he told Artnet News. “By doing so, I hope to celebrate…our people and to elevate the art of the African diaspora in a meaningful way.”

We caught up with Jenkins for a replay of his winning collection.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, <em>Hollywood Africans In Front Of The Chinese Theater With Footprints Of Movie Stars</em>. Courtesy of Malcolm Jenkins.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Hollywood Africans in front of the Chinese Theater with Footprints of Movie Stars (1983/2015). Courtesy of Malcolm Jenkins.

What was your first purchase?

When I first became serious about collecting, my first purchase was a print of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Hollywood Africans in front of the Chinese Theater with Footprints of Movie Stars (1983/2015). I didn’t know much about collecting, but I knew how Basquiat broke down many barriers and created space for the success of many of the Black artists we see today. His influence on the culture continues long after his time. I was excited to kick off my collecting.

Malcolm Jenkins with Ernie Barnes's <em>Study A for Victory in Overtime</em>. Courtesy of Malcolm Jenkins.

Malcolm Jenkins with Ernie Barnes’s Study A for Victory in Overtime (1995). Courtesy of Malcolm Jenkins.

What was your most recent purchase?

My most recent purchase is a work titled Facts, by Atlanta’s own Ayana Ross. Ayana is a phenomenal painter whose work holds space for the current conversations in the lives of African Americans. She injects her work with her own life experiences, references to her faith, and her knowledge of art history. While in Atlanta I got a chance to visit her studio and she explained that Facts was birthed from a tough conversations she had with her son after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. It reminds me of the conversations my own mother has had to have with me over the years, as she’s had to navigate raising three Black boys in a world that doesn’t recognize they’re innocent, as she does. 

Tell us about a favorite work in your collection.

My favorite work in my collection is Ernie Barnes’s Study A for Victory In Overtime (1995). Ernie was a football player too, and his work is what sparked my interest in the arts. I grew up seeing works like The Sugar Shack (1971) as a kid. I loved how he captured the movements and expressions of the Black experience. His scenes always radiated joy and pride in all things uniquely Black. I found his paintings unbelievably familiar. When I found out that he was a player in the NFL prior to his career as a painter, my connection to his work only deepened. 

Tavares Strachan, <em>Realities (Malcolm)</em>. Courtesy of Malcolm Jenkins.

Tavares Strachan, Realities (Malcolm) (2022). Courtesy of Malcolm Jenkins.

Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?

This year I want to get my hands on a work by Dominic Chambers. After having a conversation with him, I was blown away by his knowledge and passion for the usage of color. His talent is undeniable and I know he’s a rising star. I also want to collect a few artists focused on abstraction, in particular Alteronce Gumby.

What is the most valuable work of art that you own?

The most valuable piece I have is the Basquiat print. 

Where do you buy art most frequently?

I most frequently buy my work directly from galleries, usually after I’ve met the artist. 

Is there a work you regret purchasing?

Luckily I don’t have any regrets. I buy works that I love. I’m sure that my taste will grow and change as I grow and learn, but as a young collector I’m loving all of the works I’ve acquired. 

Sophia Dawson, <em>Proverb 22:6 (Young Kanye)</em> (center right). Courtesy of Malcolm Jenkins.

Sophia Dawson, Proverb 22:6 (Young Kanye) (2019), center. Courtesy of Malcolm Jenkins.

What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What about in your bathroom?

Above my sofa I have a work titled A New Orleans Night, by Cynthia Vaughn. Having played for the New Orleans Saints for seven years, the piece reminds me of some of the fondest memories I have of the city. 

What is the most impractical work of art you own?

The most impractical work I have may be some of my NFTs. I love what’s happening with digital art and NFTs, admittedly maybe too much, as it’s still early. But I enjoy cycling through the digital works on my digital NFT frame based on my daily mood. 

<em>Eyes On Me</em> (center) by emerging artist Al-basser. Courtesy of Malcolm Jenkins.

Al-Baseer Holly, Eyes On Me (2020), center. Courtesy of Malcolm Jenkins.

What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?

At the Armory Show last year I was introduced to Anthony Akinbola and saw his work for the first time. After spending some time with him and tracking him over the past year, I feel like I’ve missed out by not grabbing one of his works yet. He’s another artist that I’m determined to get my hands on soon.

If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?

There’s been one work that made me want to pull an Ocean’s Eleven-type heist. At a private showing at Jack Shainman gallery, it stopped me dead in my tracks. It was the work of the legendary Barkley L. Hendricks, a piece titled Omarr (1981). I swear, if it ever goes missing, it wasn’t me.


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