Black Artists / White Spaces
January 6, 2020 9:46 PM   Subscribe

On Aging Black Artists and British Art Institutions

One writer considers the legacy of Black British artists as UK art institutions open their doors to artists they have long closed out, and the need for these same organizations to support younger generations.

Tracking the engagement of British institutions with Black artists of all ages, it’s clear that there has been an increase in collaboration, but it is often ephemeral in nature. Events, workshops, and pop-ups are common, while exhibitions, major commissions, and acquisition of works are still thin on the ground. There is very little long-term, supportive infrastructure or funds to allow Black artists to truly flourish. Dealer representation is not to be overlooked — it is one of the keys to not only making a sufficiently decent living from one’s artistic practice but also to form relationships with national institutions, to be collected and exhibited. There has been a spate of announcements from galleries both here and in the US about their new working relationships with Black artists who are already decades into their careers. However, there is also something very predatory about commercial galleries circling aging Black artists in their twilight years for financial gain. It arguably offers little advantage to artists at that stage of their careers, but benefits galleries both as far as sales and reputation.  

In 2014, Carrie Mae Weems had her first retrospective at New York City’s Guggenheim Museum, at the age of 61. Weems commented at the time, “I’m the first African-American woman to have a retrospective at the Guggenheim. Not to sound pretentious, but I should be having a show there. By now, it should be a moot point for a black artist — but it’s not.”

How One Contrarian Art Dealer Created Space for Black Artists Decades Before the White Art World Cared at All
A special project at Frieze New York and a forthcoming exhibition at MoMA pay tribute to Linda Goode Bryant's Just Above Midtown gallery.

The Museum of Modern Art is also planning a tribute exhibition—titled “Just Above Midtown: 1974 to the Present”—for fall 2022.

One of Bryant’s superpowers is her ability to bring previously siloed communities together. “Linda set up a situation where we were not isolated,” says Howardena Pindell, who had one of her earliest solo shows in 1977 at JAM and had experienced opposition from the Studio Museum for choosing to work abstractly. “I remember JAM as a community of artists. The art world can be a very rough trip. It was a real uphill climb because there was so much resistance to not only women but people of color in the mainstream galleries. There wasn’t really a market for us.”

Of course, the art market has transformed dramatically since then, with galleries now vying for pioneering artists of color who have long been overlooked. Valerie Cassel Oliver, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, points to JAM as one of “these important sites that sustained people we are now celebrating.” Her concern is that such venues “are experiencing a sense of erasure by institutions who are now supporting these artists as if they were just sort of ‘discovered,’” she says.

In Richmond, Tracing the “Great Force” of American Racism
Taking a cue from James Baldwin, an exhibition considers the way that American racism moves forward — from the arrival of the first ship carrying enslaved Africans to the insidious ways it has trickled through the capillaries of American culture.

Carrie Mae Weems' bodies of work

Considered one of the most influential contemporary American artists, Carrie Mae Weems has investigated family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems, and the consequences of power. Determined as ever to enter the picture—both literally and metaphorically—Weems has sustained an on-going dialogue within contemporary discourse for over thirty years. During this time, Carrie Mae Weems has developed a complex body of art employing photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation, and video.

On view through January 12th, 2020:

‘ARTISTIC LICENSE: SIX TAKES ON THE GUGGENHEIM COLLECTION’ at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (through Jan. 12). Displays that artists select from a museum’s collection are almost inevitably interesting, revealing and valuable. After all, artists can be especially discerning regarding work not their own. Here, six artists — Cai Guo-Qiang, Paul Chan, Richard Prince, Julie Mehretu, Carrie Mae Weems and Jenny Holzer — guided by specific themes, have chosen, which multiplies the impact accordingly. With one per ramp, each selection turns the museum inside out. The combination sustains multiple visits; the concept should be applied regularly. (Smith)
posted by jj's.mama (9 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, great post jj’s.mama! Looking forward to chewing through all this.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:18 AM on January 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Her concern is that such venues “are experiencing a sense of erasure by institutions who are now supporting these artists as if they were just sort of ‘discovered,’” she says.

Yeah, not only are art museums slow to collect anyone except white men, but, when they do, they tend to force that art into their mold rather than meet that art where it is, and double for that history. I guess it’s even worse in music, but that’s hardly mitigating, is it?
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:16 AM on January 7, 2020

I really feel the part of that first article that points out that gallery representation for late career artists has a thin sour feel, the vultures have finally seen a morsel worth circling for. Thank you for the post, I will read about JAM when I have a second.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 8:09 AM on January 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

This was really good and thought-provoking.
posted by carbide at 9:56 AM on January 7, 2020

Thank you for posting this!
posted by brilliantine at 10:56 AM on January 7, 2020

Thank you so much for posting this. I don’t follow the arts world, and so appreciate this insight into another aspect of racism that I had never contemplated.
posted by purenitrous at 6:19 AM on January 12, 2020

What I appreciate about posts like this is that they give me a starting point, a place to begin to take a look into people/art/things that I may not have had otherwise. And then I try to be aware of what I’ve learned going forward. So thank you!
posted by lyssabee at 5:04 PM on January 15, 2020

Finally read the article on JAM, which was great. Thank you for all the links.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 1:03 PM on January 17, 2020

The reference to Carrie Mae Weems' 2014 Guggenheim show reminded me that I saw/walked through the Simone Yvette Lee show last April while mostly there for Hilma af Klint. Maybe the curatorial staff at the Guggenheim is newly sensitized? I know, 2014 and 2019 seem far apart, but exhibition planning is a 2-5 year timeline at museums.

SFMOMA recently sent a Mark Rothko painting to auction explicitly to fund acquisitions by non-white and non male artists. One sale, 11 acquisitions. I can say that it was a move that freaked out donors and those concerned with the reputations of white men - without being too explicit about my direct knowledge, the feeling is "why should I donate a blue-chip white guy artist if it's going to be deaccessioned at some future point when the museum changes its collecting targets?" It's funny how rich white dudes also don't like to be devalued (SFMOMA still owns a bunch of Rothkos, guys, you're going to be fine.)
posted by Lawn Beaver at 1:21 PM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

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