Fashion Entrepreneur And Collector James Whitner Explores Artnet Galleries

The founder of The Whitaker Group talks fashion, collecting, and what kind of art he gravitates toward.

James Whitner.

In the fifteen years since founding his first fashion and sneaker boutique in North Carolina, James Whitner has built a retail empire. Today he oversees The Whitaker Group, a conglomerate that includes stores around the country, as well as retail concept spaces, a boutique hotel, a restaurant, and a café.

Beyond his entrepreneurial ventures, James’s main passion is giving back to the community. He opens his storefronts bi-weekly to host sessions on a wide range of topics aimed at sharing knowledge, experiences, and career advice with those who wouldn’t otherwise have access to business professionals. And as an art collector himself, he believes in the power of art as a tool for inspiration. These days, he’s working with Detroit-based gallery Library Street Collective on a project that aims to change the relationship between community, retail, and the arts—and inspire the next generation, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, to pursue careers in the arts. 

Read on to hear who about his favorite piece in his collection, what book he’s read recently, and see some of his favorite artworks available for purchase right now on Artnet Galleries.

James Whitner’s Favorite Things

Movie: Harlem Nights starring Eddie Murphy.

Bucket list destination: The Maldives. 

Quarantine hobby: Basketball and working.

Artist: Nina Chanel Abney.

Clothing designer: I only wear black, so whoever has the best shade of black.

Book you have read during quarantine: Tao of Charlie Munger.

Podcast: The Tim Ferriss Show.

Emoji: Muscle, prayer and fist pump (💪 🙏  👊)

Food to eat for breakfast: I don’t eat breakfast…but if I have to, I’ll go for a veggie egg white omelet. 

Way to celebrate success: Thinking of ways to help other people get there.

Work in your collection: This is difficult for me to answer as it’s like picking between my children, but I particularly love my pieces by Nina Chanel Abney and Tomoo Gokita.

James Whitner’s Gallery Picks

I started collecting art when I realized that I only wear black, so instead of fashion, I wanted to use my physical space to express myself. My collection is about street culture, my roots, and my community. I see all these things in the art that I collect, and it makes me feel good. I have over 125 individual pieces, including a few sculptures and over 100 toys. My first purchase was four KAWS 4 Foot Companions. I’ve been a long-time collector of prints from the gallery Louis Buhl & Co., which is opening its first brick-and-mortar space on August 13 in Detroit, which I’m really excited about.

– James Whitner

Arthur Elgort
Pianist Jason Moran, guitarist Mark Whitfield, saxophonist David Sánchez, and the bandleader Paul Ellington, with models wearing outfits by Prada, Harlem, The New Yorker Magazine (2000)

Courtesy of Staley-Wise Gallery.

Kenneth Noland
Untitled (1985)

Courtesy of Pace Gallery.

Cornelia Parker
Cloud Burst (Jerusalem) (2002)

Courtesy of Wilde.

Zanele Muholi
Basizeni I, Amsterdam (2016)

Courtesy of Ingleby Gallery.

McArthur Binion
dna:study (2019)

Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin.

Mel Bochner
Eradicate (2015)

Courtesy of Maddox Gallery.

Mickalene Thomas
I’ve Been Good to Me (2015)

Courtesy of ArtWise.

Kehinde Wiley
Head of a Young Girl Veiled (2019)

Courtesy of Hang-Up Pictures.

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