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Exhibiting Blackness

Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Exhibiting Blackness
    Book Description:

    In 1927, the Chicago Art Institute presented the first major museum exhibition of art by African Americans. Designed to demonstrate the artists’ abilities and to promote racial equality, the exhibition also revealed the art world’s anxieties about the participation of African Americans in the exclusive venue of art museums—places where blacks had historically been barred from visiting let alone exhibiting. Since then, America’s major art museums have served as crucial locations for African Americans to protest against their exclusion and attest to their contributions in the visual arts. In Exhibiting Blackness, art historian Bridget R. Cooks analyzes the curatorial strategies, challenges, and critical receptions of the most significant museum exhibitions of African American art. Tracing two dominant methodologies used to exhibit art by African Americans—an ethnographic approach that focuses more on artists than their art, and a recovery narrative aimed at correcting past omissions—Cooks exposes the issues involved in exhibiting cultural difference that continue to challenge art history, historiography, and American museum exhibition practices. By further examining the unequal and often contested relationship between African American artists, curators, and visitors, she provides insight into the complex role of art museums and their accountability to the cultures they represent.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-006-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION African Americans Enter the Art Museum
    (pp. 1-16)

    InExhibiting BlacknessI offer a critical exploration of the discourse of African American art and culture in American art museums. The exhibition strategies for representation vary as the narratives of each exhibition strive for their claims on the historical and contemporary representation of Black art and culture. My goal is to explore the assertions made in the unequal and often contested relationship between African American artists, curators, visitors, and critics in the mainstream art world.

    Exhibitions of African American art in American art museums have been curated through two guiding methodologies: the anthropological approach, which displays the difference of...

    (pp. 17-51)

    At the end of the 1930s, two exhibitions of art by Negroes were organized by major American art museums,Exhibition of Sculpture by William Edmondson(1937) at the Museum of Modern Art andContemporary Negro Art(1939) at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Both exhibitions were the first exhibitions of Negro art at their respective institutions. Both featured the most recent work by living artists on view. And both addressed the role of the Negro in the contemporary art world. However, each institution offered different interpretations of what Negro art was and what Negro artists could contribute to the modern...

    (pp. 53-85)

    In 1969, the Metropolitan Museum of Art mountedHarlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900–1968, an exhibition that sought to explore the cultural history of the predominantly Black community of Harlem, New York (figure 15).¹ At the center of one of the most controversial exhibitions in United States history were the Met’s decisions to reject Harlem residents’ participation in the exhibition planning and to exclude artwork by Harlem’s thriving artist community from its galleries. Near the end of the Civil Rights Movement and the beginning of the Black Power Movement, Black culture emerged in the Met...

  8. Color galleries
    (pp. None)
  9. CHAPTER 3 FILLING THE VOID Two Centuries of Black American Art, 1976
    (pp. 87-109)

    Two Centuries of Black American Artwas the only historically comprehensive exhibition of art by Black Americans ever to be presented by a major American art museum (figure 22). Organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 1976, the exhibition traveled in 1977 to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, and the Brooklyn Museum.Two Centuriesreceived greater visibility and validation from the mainstream art world than any other group exhibition of work by Black artists. It also gave the general public the opportunity to become aware of and enjoy...

  10. CHAPTER 4 NEW YORK TO L.A. Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art, 1994–1995
    (pp. 110-134)

    In 1976, Driskell and LACMA got it right withTwo Centuriesby showing that communities of people who do not regularly constitute the art museum audience could be made to feel welcome if their artistic contributions were recognized and people of their racial group were involved in the production of the exhibition. This collaborative approach benefited the art museum by increasing its audience and financial revenue. This was an important revelation in the relationship between art museums and Black artists, especially after the public relations fiasco ofHarlem on My Mind. What followedTwo Centurieswas an increase in the...

  11. CHAPTER 5 BACK TO THE FUTURE The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, 2002
    (pp. 135-154)

    Transgressing normalized boundaries of gender, class, race, and elitist investments in high versus low art,The Quilts of Gee’s Bendwas bound to be one of the most talked about exhibitions in American museum history. The exhibition featured seventy-one quilts made between 1930 and 1997 by forty-four women from the rural and isolated community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama.¹ The show premiered in 2002 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, before traveling for nearly six years to twelve other major American art museums on the East Coast and in the Midwest, West, and South (plate 14).² This serious validation of...

  12. Color galleries
    (pp. None)
  13. CONCLUSION African Americans after the Art Museum
    (pp. 155-160)

    The history of the relationship between African Americans and the American art museum is a study of American race relations, nationalist ideals, and contested investments in definitions of quality, beauty, and art. In light of the analysis of exhibitions discussed in the previous chapters, I want to revisit the two methodological frameworks for exhibiting art by African Americans: the approach that features the art of African Americans within a anthropological paradigm of Black racial difference and White normalcy, and the corrective approach to redefining and expanding American art.

    The use of the anthropological model for exhibiting the work of African...

  14. EPILOGUE Harlem on My Mind
    (pp. 161-164)

    In January 2008, a friend and fellow art historian sent me an e-mail telling me thatHarlem on My Mindwas currently on view. Confused, I read the forwarded information about the exhibition being remounted at South Carolina State University, the historically Black university in Orangeburg. The exhibition was being installed in two parts over a six-month period. I knew I had to go see the show.

    After the initial heat of the original 1969 exhibition subsided, the photo murals were donated to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, where some were displayed as decoration in...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 165-192)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 193-205)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 206-206)