Art Collector Questionnaire

How Collector Demanti O’Bryant Turned His Atlanta Home Into a Cottage Museum

Portrait of Demanti O'Bryant by Kendall Bessent.
Bust: "From my coarseness" series by Austen Brantley. Painting André Firmiano, O Seguranca.

Collector Demanti O’Bryant basically lives in a museum. While Atlanta’s High Museum might have an impressive collection in the heart of Midtown, O’Bryant’s home across town functions as a homegrown institution full of history and special memories from his world travels and newfound passion for collecting.

As an international model scout and manager, O’Bryant is no stranger to travel, style, and culture. While living in New York, he was laser-focused on the fashion industry. His only museum visit was to the Met to see its 2011 Alexander McQueen exhibit. He admits to a learning curve in his early days of collecting, sharing, “My experience with African art was what was in my parents and grandparents home, which was Home Goods, TJ Maxx types of masks, and other run of the mill stuff, so I was like, ‘No, no, no place for that!’”

In 2016, O’Bryant started traveling extensively for work. His first trips were to China, where he didn't encounter any Black art. Then everything changed with his first auction. The scout recalls, “I did an auction in 2020 a year after moving into my home and that was my first entry into what a Black art collection could be.”

Mixed media work: Quamaine Giles, To the Horizon. Sculpture by Woodrow Nash. Artifacts from various African tribes.

During that process, O’Bryant took a crash course in the high-stakes world of art dealing and auctions, securing two Woodrow Nash sculptures, which essentially kickstarted his collection.  In his first year, O’Bryant supported around 60 artists, a remarkable commitment for an emerging collector.

“I'm very interested in the story aspect of art,” says O'Bryant, adding, “I want stories that can either be grounded in realism or can be grounded in spirituality or mysticism. I prefer the more fantastical rendition. So, I like a lot of Haitian artists and a lot of Brazilian artists that lean into spirituality in their customs and traditions. I'm neither Haitian nor Brazilian, but those are artists that I feel something is speaking to me about them, like Naudline Pierre.”

Inspired by the Louvre and its different sections, O’Bryant’s home is now a work of art itself with nearly every inch and corner covered by paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and more. O’Bryant hosts tours, so if you find yourself in Atlanta, pay him a visit. 

What do you think makes the Atlanta art scene distinct?

I would consider our art scene younger than most major cities. Therein lies a lot of opportunity for growth from both artists and collectors. There is an active effort to inspire more Black art collectors by entities like Black Art In America. I have witnessed many new collectors jumpstart their journey there.

Painting: Tim Short, Ancestral Embrace. Shadowbox: Judy Woodborne, Catfish.

Where does the story of your personal collection begin?

It actually started with stumbling upon an auction in Hampton, Georgia. The auction had dozens of Black artworks and that sparked my immediate interest and action. A few months later, I decided to collect art directly from living artists.

How would you characterize your collection?

It is a compilation of stories and episodes, antiques and contemporaries, art and artifacts. Each room is meant to transport the inhabitant to a different place (either in the world or otherworld). Some works are grounded in realistic depictions of figures from daily life and some are leaning towards the spiritual experience.

What was the first piece you ever bought? 

My first secondary market art purchase was a Woodrow Nash sculpture. My first primary market art purchase was an oil painting by British-Ghanaian artist Richard Mensah.

Which work or works provokes the most conversation from visitors?

Hotel California by Andre Ford, Ancestral Embrace by Tim Short, N'San by Enighe Amba, and a large, hand-stitched leather work by Abongile Sidzumo.

Left: Isaac Sales, Anoitecer. Right: Amba Enighe, N'San. Works on back wall include pieces by Chinaza Agbor and Daniel Wingo.

Do you have any favorites in your collection? 

I would say that in addition to the four previously mentioned, my favorites are Soy Una Flor Negra by Frank Xarate, Le Mythe Du Bapteme by Laurena Finéus, Exilio by J. Quiñones, BPD: Splitting and Do you want a taste? by Josiah Jamison, A Dark in the Light by Tim Short, Altar of Forgiveness by Lordéa, and my portrait commission by Ruth Hardy. 

How has the local art scene influenced your collection?

The small-knit networking aspect of our collectors scene has provided me with the community that I didn't know I needed. My collection requires looking for the more unnoticed artists. The ones that may not be the loudest in the room but truly have something deeper to say. Tim Short and Lordéa are exciting artists in the Atlanta scene that I hope receive the flowers that they deserve. I have been introduced to new artists via Future Gallery, Articulate ATL, and other Black-owned art entities of Atlanta.

How do you discover new artists or work?

Instagram is how I discover most of the artists. Sometimes, I'll see an artist that I have collected from post an artist on their story that catches my eye.

What factors do you consider when expanding your collection? 

The storytelling aspect of the art is certainly what will get me excited about purchasing! Take me on a journey! Teach me something new! Show me a different perspective!

Painting: Ruth Hardy, Demanti O'Bryant. Sculpture by Harold Miller.

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

I was fortunate to always be surrounded by knowledge-seekers and artists. My dad is a historian/author, and his mother was a quilt-maker/educator. My mother's father was a painter. I was a very active artist up until age 18. I mostly drew but also dabbled, at least once, in ceramics, woodwork, metalwork, and painting.

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

I just want them to feel SOMETHING. The collection covers a range of emotions and perspectives. I hope at least one of those works resonates with the visitor.

How has your collection changed as your home and space has changed?

Art has taken over! I have plans for more extensions to be built in the home to accommodate the collection. For now, I also have storage racks to keep the art organized that isn't on the wall. In this way, it can still be shown to guests regardless of where it is displayed.

What artists are you excited about right now?

I'm excited about Komikka Patton, Gustavo Nazareno, Laurena Finéus, Erin LeAnn Mitchell, and Quamaine Giles. Also, rooting for Josiah Jamison, Frank Xarate, Andre Ford, and Tim Short, to name a few.