Making It: Race, Gender and Ethnicity in the Artworld
Leo Segedin   |  1/26/1993 |   Print this essay

I

Fools walk in where angels fear to tread and no one has called me an angel since I was 5 years old. Obviously I am not female, black or Latino. I don't know what it's like to be a female, black or Latino artist from personal experience and it would be disingenuous for me to speak as if I did. But given the diversity of views within these groups, I don't believe that anyone even within these groups can speak for all black, female or 'ethnic' artists either. I don't have to be a poststructuralist theorist to accept the assumption that all acts of critical judgement proceed "from our own biases of gender, race, class, and historical position" or even that the artworld has been permeated with a racism, sexism and ethnicism which has limited the success of minority artists.1 To say this in 1993, however, is to recite a commonplace. Especially during the last 25 years, the artworld has been harangued about its exclusionary practices and slowly - very slowly - it has responded; changes - sometimes token, but often sincere - have occurred. But, even where intentions are admirable, minority artists are still under-represented, so much so that occasionally, in trying to avoid even the appearance of bias, some art institutions have tried so hard to accommodate diversity that they have wound up offending everyone.

II

To many minorities who have tried to 'make it' as artists, the mainstream artworld appears to function pretty much as a small, incestuous, social institution in which white, male or Anglo participants, while performing their various roles, share similar views about the significance of art. It is a world of artist celebrities and old-boy networks, of cocktail parties and gallery openings, of personal contacts and back room negotiations, of auction prices and sales commissions and of NEA and Guggenheim grant committees. Sociologists such as Milton Albrecht tell us that this artworld, like the literary world, the scientific world or any other cultural and intellectual field, consists at its uppermost level of an established group of 'professionals' who are assumed to be knowledgeable about their subject. These art authorities determine the qualifications of those who become participants; they specify the kind of objects to be considered for art judgment; they establish what criteria are to be used when judging and they even create the language of art criticism.2 As a result, the public is limited in the kind of art it can respond to by what is made available to it - in other words, by what the major 'players' in the artworld - museum curators, art dealers, historians, critics and teachers - determine. Since we can 'appreciate', value and criticize only what we see in art museums and galleries, art books, magazines and slides, such authorities create the world of art. They certainly ordain the reality of the art market since we cannot buy what we can't see or know the price of anything unless we are told. And although this artworld may be notorious for its controversies, it nevertheless establishes the formal and cultural parameters of the issues to be debated.

Any artist, regardless of origin, who has tried to 'make it' - who has ever tried to be shown in an important art exhibition, establish gallery representation or get any kind of critical review - will recognize the difficulty of breaking into this artworld, but non-mainstream, minority artists have faced additional difficulties. Because many institutions of the artworld have viewed their art in terms of their race, gender or ethnicity, they have been proportionally under-represented in or deliberately excluded from mainstream exhibitions, galleries and collections. Black women artists especially would probably agree with Greg Tate, culture critic for the Village Voice, when he wrote in 1989 that:

To this day, (the artworld) remains a bastion of white supremacy, a sconce of the wealthy whose high-walled barricades are matched only by Wall Street and the White House and whose exclusionary practices are enforced 24-7-365 (sic). It is easier for a rich white man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a Black abstract and/or conceptual artist to get a one-woman show in lower Manhattan or a feature in the pages of Artforum, Art in America, or the Village Voice.3

On those few occasions when they are acknowledged by art critics, minority artists have usually received inadequate, biased coverage. As Tate put it, "No area of modern intellectual life has been more resistant to recognizing and authorizing people of color than the world of the "serious" visual arts."4 A case in point might be Alan Artner, Chicago Tribune art critic, who, in a review of Romaire Bearden's show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1991, refers to him as being a "story teller out of time", saying of him that although he has no place in mainstream Modernist art history, he is, nonetheless, a "key figure in black-American art."5 This probably means that because he has no major followers in the mainstream artworld, his primary identity and significance is as a black artist and, therefore, he doesn't belong in mainstream art history texts. But traditional art historians don't insist that important European artists have important followers. Paul Klee, Marc Chagall and, until recent revisionist art history, even Henri Matisse were considered to be 'independent' or 'minor' artists, but a place was still found for them in or 'outside' mainstream history, i.e. at least mention was made of them in the texts.

Also, as feminist art historians have long pointed out, no women appear in such standard art history texts as Gombrich's 'Story of Art'; H.W. Jansons' 'History of Art' did not include any mention of women until the edition of 1986 when Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler, key figures in the Abstract Expressionist movement, first appear.4 As late as 1970, the only woman to appear in Helen Gardner's 'Art Through the Ages' (5th edition) was Kathe Kollwitz, the only Latino, the Mexican muralist, David Siqueiros. And as late as 1991, no black artists, not even Romaire Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, appear in this text. Also, no black artists can be found in H. H. Arnason's 'History of Modern Art'7; the only Latinos to appear are the Mexicans, Siqueiros, Rivera and Orozco.

Some minorities claim that even when they do appear in the artworld, they are not allowed to speak for themselves. Hispanic artists such as Juan Sanchez argue that Hispanic and other ethnic artists have been 'colonialized'; the meaning and content of their work is misconceived, explained by their 'cultural masters' entirely within the context of mainstream, Eurocentric art values. According to Sanchez, ~The cultural imperialists appropriates, reinterprets, edits, and exploits the very elements that belong to the colonized."8 The exhibition, 'Harlem On My Mind' at the New York Metropolitan Museum in 1969, later at Chicago's Field Museum, and, especially, the 'Primitivism in 20th Century Art' exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1984 are considered to be prime examples of this kind of 'colonialism'.9

Thus, for minority artists, it is easy to see why art history, rather than being an objective study of what has really been going on among artists, can appear to be an arena of political conflict. Under-representation and exclusion can be perceived, not as a result of aesthetic differences within the artworld, as, for example, between abstractionists and imagists, but rather as a power struggle between white, male or Anglo insiders and minority outsiders - the insiders defining the aesthetic and controlling the major art institutions - museums, galleries, auction houses, book publishers, art magazines and art schools. Art history becomes a history of the powerful. In the mainstream artworld, because they are powerless, minority artists are barely visible.10 Or, in other words, minority artists have had a hard time 'making it' because they just have not been given access to the institutions of the artworld.

III

Consider the contentions of many art critics that, because of the unconscious assumptions it makes about its universality, the artworld maintains aesthetic standards which are biased against minorities.11 Traditionally, the idea of the Fine Arts was based on the assumption that painting and sculpture were the 'most noble manifestation of a nation's soul'. The Fine Arts were assumed to be the highest achievement of culture, the expression of its greatest artists. But this 'nation' was white, western European.12 and this idea of the Fine Arts excluded the so-called 'crafts' (depreciatingly called the Minor or Lesser arts) where many minority artists excelled. The Fine Arts were most often characterized by a concern for what was called 'quality'. 'Quality', usually defined in formal, aesthetic terms, was assumed to be a universally recognizable characteristic of certain artworks, whereas, in fact, this assumption was recognized as such only by a very few Eurocentric cultural elitists. Since these assumptions often underlay the selection of what could and could not be included in Fine Art history as well as the status of art objects, their consequences for minorities have been insidious.

Not only were the materials and techniques which some minorities have traditionally used denigrated as minor crafts rather than as high status Fine Arts. The content of their artwork was also attacked as being either too 'ethnic' on the one hand or too personal, emotional or political on the other. Minority artists are especially offended by the critical assumption that their artwork did not have the same 'quality' that the work of mainstream artists did.13 Some have gone so far as to argue that such notions of 'quality', when used by museum curators, art dealers and art critics, are really deliberate strategies (code words) for keeping minority artists from 'making it' in the mainstream artworld. Howardena Pindell writes that:

Omission and exclusion, patrician and subtle, odorless and tasteless for the practitioner, are blatant and insidious tools of repression. The practice is further propped up by a slippery utilization in the larger national arena of double speak and of "double think". Double speak and "double think" codes are used in an art world to imply the ability of one group of artists (people of European descent) to produce "quality" work, and the inability of another group of artists (people who are not of European descent) to produce "quality" work. The word "quality" is therefore used as if it was synonymous with skin pigmentation and ancestry, but is stated publicly as signifying an unsullied and courageous color-blind standard.14

IV

While views such as those of Pindell and others may be impossible to prove, they are deeply felt and, for years, have been debated by artists, critics and educators in art journals, at artists' symposia and at museum and university conferences and seminars. Given this contentious, repressive creative environment, what might constitute 'making it' for a minority artist? And, as a minority artist, how should you go about 'making it'? Should you work to become part of this artworld by accepting its artistic values, focus on personal or artworld aesthetic issues, even if you feel that this artworld is racist, sexist or ethnophobic? After all, you might argue, art has nothing to do with social causes and, in spite of the threats of bias and rejection, it is the only 'real' game in town; it is where the big reputations and fortunes are made. (Or is that option a form of artistic prostitution, of co-option, of 'selling out' to your 'oppressor'?) Should you ignore the artworld and work independently of it? (What do you do with your artwork then? Who is your clientele?) Should you try to destroy the artworld? Should you struggle to work within the artworld to change its values, to expand its canon to include the work of the 'rejected'? In doing so, transform the artworld into what? An institution which supports your own canon? A diverse, multi- cultural institution? Or a race, ethnic and gender-blind one? (All these options might sound fine, but they are probably incompatible.) Should you work to establish separate, parallel institutions, a 'hothouse' environment in which each group can practice, recover or develop its own aesthetic and cultural forms of expression? Should you work in your creative activities toward a generally accepted, perhaps 'Eurocentric', notion of 'quality'? Or should you work toward what you believe to be the standards of your own group? (Can you only speak to, be understood by, 'one of your own'?) Should each group work to establish its own collectors, museums, galleries, publications and supporting organizations? (Would this be a matter of principle, of group identity and pride? Or of practical economics? Would this apply only if you can't 'make it' in the mainstream artworld? Even more fundamentally, must you identify with a group in order to maintain your identity as an artist?)

All of these options have been tried. Strategies of black, women and Latino artists have ranged all the way from the rejection of the assumption that race, gender or ethnic origin can or should be a defining characteristic of one's art to the assumption that it is the mainspring of its existence - from attempts at assimilation into the artworld to programs for a separatist art based on cultural and historical identity. Rather than seeing themselves as individual artists trying to 'make it' in a very competitive and often biased artworld, some artists have, in a sense, created their own artworlds. Especially since 1969, they have isolated themselves from the mainstream art market, developed their own art forms and content and established their own galleries and museums. The early 70s was the time of Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro's Womanhouse, of the founding of the ARC and Artemisia Galleries and of Jeff Donaldson and Africobra,15

But also, during the last 25 years, some minorities have protested the biases of the artworld as political action groups. Black artists established the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition; women organized Women Artists in Revolution, the Art Worker's Coalition, the Women's Caucus for Art, black women, Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation, and many others. During this period, they have publicized their views in books, articles, lectures and exhibitions,16 demonstrated institutional biases with statistics, demanded quota-determined museum representation and confronted the institutions of the artworld directly with sit-ins and picketing, the most recent feminist confrontation being at the 1992 Documenta IX exhibition at Kassel, Germany.17

On the other hand, another form of protest is typified by the black artist, David Hammons, who, after years of protesting the artworld's exclusionary practices, protested again by declining an invitation to be in the Whitney Museum's Biennial exhibition in 1991.

V

If we are to judge the extent and seriousness of charges of present-day bias against the artworld, we should know the actual figures on minority representation and what they might reveal. In 1988, of the 62 major art galleries in NY, 38 (or 61%) were 100% white as were 69% to 95% of the remaining 24 (or 39%).18 To oversimplify, in 1988, major N.Y. art galleries were about 93% white. Of 260 solo exhibitions in NY in 1985, 16% were by women. During the same year, in Chicago, of 69 solo exhibitions, 22% were by women.19 As for the major NY museums, between 1980 and 1987, at the Guggenheim Museum, all of 73 exhibitions were 100% white with the exception of a sculpture show in 1985 in which 2 out of 56 artists were not white. During the same period, the Brooklyn Museum had 51 one-person shows of which 2 (by Romaire Bearden and Jacob Lawrence) were black. Of all exhibitions, 87.75% were white. None were by Hispanics. At MOMA, 2 (film and video) out of 247 exhibitions were by black artists. At the Whitney, the record is a bit better, about 93% white, but the Whitney has not presented a one-person exhibition of a black, Hispanic or Native American painter or sculptor since 1980. All the Whitney Biennials combined statistics for 1973-1987 were 4.1% men of color and only .30% women of color.20 Although women artists have increased their representation during the last several years, their numbers in galleries, museums, critical articles, grants and auctions have leveled off and is still proportionally smaller than those of men.

Although the significance of such figures for some of these institutions might be ambiguous21, they certainly indicate that under-representation does still does exist in the artworld, most particularly for black women and Latinos. But, while acknowledging the persistence of bias, are not attacks on today's art museums, such as Pindell's, excessive? Although some critics would disagree,22 I will argue that minority strategies have had consequences. Some art museums have responded, in varying degrees, to the kinds of social and political pressures which I have described. In April, 1991, for example, a major retrospective exhibition of Bearden's work, organized by the Studio Museum of Harlem and sponsored by Philip Morris Companies, began a national tour with an itinerary which included, not only the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, but also the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh and the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C. where it closed on January 4 of this year. Other important black artists, such as Jacob Lawrence and Martin Puryear last year at the Art Institute, have received similar recognition. Also, the Art Institute now exhibits, as part of its permanent American art collection, the work of Walter Ellison, Aaron Douglas, Horace Pippin and Archibald J. Motley, Jr. (who also had a major exhibition at the Chicago Historical Society last year.) And black printmakers, Elizabeth Olds, Margaret Burroughs and Leopold Mendez finally appear in the Art Institute's print gallery. You could even buy greeting cards with reproductions of paintings by African-American artists on them in the Art Institute's Museum Shop before last Christmas. I doubt, therefore, that the art museum can any longer be called "one of America's most racially biased cultural institutions".23 Such achievements may not be enough, but they are becoming more typical, and, we should hope, more than tokenism.

VI

Still a question persists: what constitutes under-representation and does under-representation necessarily indicate bias? While recognizing the existence of bias, can under-representation also be the result of other causes? What should be the 'correct' number of minority artists represented in art galleries and, especially, museums? Do quota or 'affirmative action' approaches apply? For example, should a museum use general population figures, in which case (1989), 51% of exhibitors would be women, 12%, black and 8%, Hispanic?24 If the population of New York is about 50% black and 25% Hispanic, should 50% of the artists represented in New York galleries and museums be black and 25% Hispanic? (But, you might ask, what proportions of these populations visit museums and galleries? But then again, would more minorities go if representation was more equitable?) Or should a museum use the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for full-time professional artists, in which case (1989), of 229,000 artists, 50.7% (116,103) would be women, but only 2.7% (6,183) would be black and 3.8% (8,702), Hispanic?25 But the Hispanic figures include blacks and women and the black figures include women and the women figures include blacks and Hispanics. And if we use David Driskell's (1989) figures in his introduction to the book, "Black Art/ African Legacy", there are only 3000 black artists in this country;26 thus, if the total number of professional artists is 229,000, then the proportion for black artists is only 1.3%. And even if a museum wanted to present exhibitions in which 75% of the artists were minority reflecting general population figures, if only 6.5% of the professional artists are minority, where would it find the artists? In short, one reason for the small number of minorities in museum exhibitions is the small number of professional minority artists.

VII

Even assuming that we can attain equity, what ever that might be, how do we resolve the issue of 'quality'? Do we assume that there are art standards on which members of all races, genders and ethnicities can agree? Or does each group have its own aesthetics and to which only its members are sensitive or to which outsiders must be educated? Are notions of 'equity' or diversity and 'quality' compatible? Even when the most serious attempts are made at diversity and quality in museum exhibitions, problems remain. For example, about 2 1/2 years ago, an event occurred in Chicago which illustrates the booby traps which confront even those with the best of intentions if not sense or principle. Between May 5 and July 3, 1990, an exhibition was held at the Chicago Cultural Center called 'The Chicago Show' and according its perspectus, the show was intended to showcase "the talent and cultural diversity of artists residing in Chicago and environs." In order to accomplish this, the sponsors of the show - the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Chicago Cultural Center (with Continental Bank contributing $100,000) - selected a jury to pick paintings and sculpture which they assumed would result in such diversity and quality. This jury consisted of representatives of the three sponsoring institutions as well as a black and a Latino artist. Two of the jurors were women. The Center promoted the event by sending a mass mailing of the prospectus to those they identified as minority artists along with the general distribution. (How this was done is not clear.) 1,417 artists submitted 6,000 slides for the jury to judge. These slides were not identified as to artist's name, race, gender, etc.; it was what is known as blind choice, but, in fact, the jury apparently leaned over backwards to pick works which they thought were by minorities in terms of subject matter, etc. 175 artists were selected to submit original works, and from these, 90 artists were selected to exhibit their works in the Center. As it turned out, only six were by minorities. Many of the works which the jury assumed were by minority artists turned out to be by white artists. In fact, among the original applicants, apparently fewer than 100 were minority.27

It soon became apparent that the more important issue for Chicago's cultural bureaucracy was cultural diversity rather than artistic quality. According to James Yood, a contributing editor to New Art Examiner:

Lois Weisberg, Mayor Daley's recently appointed Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs simply overruled the votes of the jury by reinviting 22 so-called minority artists who had originally been rejected. (This was done by going back to the original applications, and looking for ethnic sounding names or residencies in certain neighborhoods, a kind of reverse redlining. Later on the jury was repolled to rubber-stamp this backwards ex-post-facto decision.) The artists were notified that their earlier dismissal had been some sort of mistake, and that they would now appear in the exhibition as "invited", with an "I" placed on the label next to their work, while the 90% "Juried" artists would be identified with a "J." ... The 22 artists so notified were understandably confused and more or less furious at this rather abject display of aesthetic colonialism. With the support of the Alliance for Cultural Equity (ACE) and the Chicago Artists' Coalition (CAC), they eventually called for a boycott of the exhibition, asked other artists to do likewise, and sought to pressure the co-sponsors of the event and Continental Bank to speak to the issues raised therein. They made a fuss, even appearing on local TV. Power structures don't like fusses. Deals were cut. The Cultural Center rolled its principles over again, this time inviting the artists to be part of "The Chicago Show" with no public acknowledgement of their less than juried status. No identifying letters would be present, no stigma would exist... Promises were made about future exhibitions, about political plums, about access and interaction and input and outreach efforts and dialogue and recognition... The ACE and the CAC were permitted to have statements printed in the forthcoming catalogue of the exhibition, and presented on placards at the exhibit's entrance. And it worked. All the artists but one accepted ... and were intersped among the original 90 participants. ... Weisberg's long series of bench decisions tampered with any pretense of jury process, but kept a tainted peace."28

VIII

There are several conclusions which might be reached from such attempts at cultural diversity. First, there is simply no way of telling whether a woman, a black or a Latino juror represents identifiably male, female, white or minority values which all members of such groups hold in common. This is evidenced by the fact that you can not recognize paintings and sculpture as being by women, blacks and Latinos judging by their appearance alone. There just are no representative styles that would reveal gender or race among such artists. Even when it tried, 'The Chicago Show' jury could not tell on the basis of style or even content which artist did what.29 That is why one cannot tell whether any one particular work represents any particular group. This is not to suggest that there are not unique experiences which black, women and Latino artists can bring to their work; but a work of art has "quality", however defined, not because it is typical or representative, but because it is special and extraordinary. But even if you felt that representation was more important that quality and were willing to sacrifice quality to representation, you would fail, as in 'The Chicago Show', because there is no reliable way to achieve representation by judgement of artworks alone. Quality can be successfully sacrificed to representation only by selecting people, not paintings and sculpture, on the evident basis of race and gender.

Finally, it is possible, on the one hand, to agree with Yood that issues of cultural diversity have no place in the selection of artworks for a 'quality' art exhibition even if the result is a racially, gender and ethnically inequitable show or, on the other hand, agree with the CAC and the ACE that minorities should receive special considerations so that they will be equitably represented. But you cannot do both. To put it another way, either cultural and Fine Art exhibitions should be kept separate because they are based on incompatible - cultural vs. aesthetic - assumptions or all art exhibitions are inherently culturally skewed because they are based on unavoidably biased selection and rejection. But, having said all that, is it possible to satisfy both cultural and aesthetic demands? Was the original selection by the jury really as inequitable as Lois Weisberg's response would indicate? If, out of the 1417 artists who submitted slides, "less than 100", let's say 95, were minority artists, then the proportion is 6.7% and if, out of the 90 artists who were selected, 6 were minority, that proportion is 6.7%, the same ratio. Both these figures reflect approximately the minority proportion - 6.5% - of professional artists in the country. In addition, women constituted about half the exhibiting artists, also reflecting national ratios. It would seem, therefore, that no bias is indicated. Thus, even if we grant that these figures are lower than we would like and that we shouldn't overgeneralize from admittedly skimpy statistics, such calculations still seem to suggest that, when allowed to compete in an unbiased arena, minority artists are as 'good' or 'bad' as any other group of artists and, in fact, do not require 'special consideration' so long as they are given (as they were in 'The Chicago Show') equal access to the selection process. Perhaps blind choice does work; perhaps it can result in an artistically representative, if not as demographically diverse, race, gender and ethnic exhibition as some would like. Issues of 'quality' vs. diversity then become irrelevant and outside political interference, such as Ms. Weinberg's, does more damage than good. Perhaps, after 25 years of revisionist cultural analysis and political activism, the pressing issue still remains, not only acceptance, encouragement, recruitment and information dissemination, but - most importantly - empowerment in the artworld, a matter of minority participation as much as it is proportional minority representation. Most members of such groups want to be part of the selection process, not merely its object. This can be accomplished only when they collaborate in the creation of art exhibitions, the publishing of art literature, the developing of art education programs and participate fully in all the institutions of the artworld.

NOTES

  1. Betty Ann Brown, "A Community's Self-portrait", New Art Examiner, (December, 1990), p. 20 

  2. Milton C. Albrecht, "Art as an Institution", in The Sociology of Art and Literature, ed. M. Albrecht, J. Barnett and M. Griff (N.Y. 1970) pp. 1-33. See also George Dickie, Art and the Aesthetic: An Institutional Analysis, (N.Y. 1974), Arthur Danto, "The Last Work of Art: Artworks and Real Things", in ed. G. Dickie and G. Sclafani, Aesthetics: A Critical Anthology, (N.Y. 1977), pp. 551-563 and A. Danto, "The Artworld", in Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 61, (1964), pp. 571-584.
  3. "Nobody Loves a Genius Child", Flyboy in the Buttermilk, (N.Y. 1992), p. 234. Also, Samella S Lewis wrote in the Preface to Black Artists on Art, (Los Angeles, 1969), p. viii:
    ...the control of this cultural empire (the artworld) is ninety-nine and one-hundred percent from the white group. This is not because whites are more "cultured" but because they control the economy and consequently dictate the specific aesthetic standards. This condition will persist so long as we continue to follow the prevailing archaic, computerized style of aesthetics insisted upon by those in command. It is without question that the present operations of the "world of art" functions in the manner of a closed society.
  4. Tate, p. 234.
  5. Quoted in Claudia Mesch, "Romaire Bearden", New Art Examiner, (January, 1992), p. 37.
  6. Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock, "Critical Stereotypes: The Essential Feminine or How Essential is Femininity", in Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology, (N.Y. 1981), p. 6. and Randy Rosen, "Moving into the Mainstream", in Making Their Mark, (N.Y. 1989), p. 10 and endnote 13, p. 23.
    But Jacob Lawrence and Horace Pippin were discussed and their work reproduced in Alexander Elliot, Three Hundred Years of American Painting, (N.Y., 1957). Lawrence was referred to as "the world's foremost Negro painter." Even earlier, a work by Robert Gwathmey was reproduced in Alan Gruskin, Painting in the U.S.A., (N.Y., 1946). Also the works of five contemporary women.
  7. Quoted in Howardena Pindell, "Breaking the Silence", in New Art Examiner, (October, 1990), p. 20.
  8. Maurice Berger, "Are Art Museums Racist?", in Art in America, (September, 1990), pp. 69-77.
  9. A typical example of historical distortion can be found in a 1987 exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, entitled "A Selected History of Contemporary Art". It was even more evident in the accompanying essays in the catalog to the show which claimed to explore "the conjunction of history and art history, the social and the formal, the personal and the political," in contemporary art since 1954. These essays were by such prominent and supposedly progressive critics such as Kate Linker, Donald Kuspit, Hal Foster and Thomas Lawson. The show exhibited the work by 69 men and 13 women, a ratio of about 5 to 1, but the catalog's 8 critical essays mentioned over 6 times as many male artists (157) as female ones (24) and devoted a paragraph to only 3 of them. Only one non-white artist was represented (Martin Puryear). Black Arts Annual, 1987-88, p. 4.
  10. Lisa Vogel, "Fine Arts and Feminism: The Awakening Consciousness", Feminist Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1974.
    (The Artworld) ordinarily assumes that a single human norm exists, one that is universal, ahistorical, and without sex, class, or race identity, although it is in fact quite clearly male, upper class and white."
  11. Harold Osborne (ed.), "Art History", The Oxford Companion to Art, (Oxford, 1971), p. 78.
  12. Brown, p. 20-24.
  13. Pindell, p. 19. Other statements which reflect similar views are: Betty Ann Brown in New Art Examiner. (Dec. 1990), p 20:
    Quality is a term that has a specific history. Linked for centuries with the European concept of aesthetics, it was bound in the 1960s to Clement Greenberg's formalist dictates. The concept of quality, as the exemplar of the elitist canon of the art world, has been used institutionally to exclude women and artists of color, particularly through the machinations of the curatorial process.
  14. Maurice Berger in Art in America, (Sept. 90), p 71:
    Art that demonstrates its "difference" from the mainstream or that challenges dominant values is rarely acceptable to white curators, administrators and patrons. The cultural elite bases its selections on arbitrary, Eurocentric standards of "taste" and "quality" - the code words of racial indifference and exclusion.
  15. Lucy Lippard, in "Mapping", Mixed Blessings, (N.Y. 1990), p 7:
    Ethnocentricism in the arts is balanced on the notion of Quality that "transcends boundaries" -and is identifiable only by those in power. According to this lofty view, racism has nothing to do with art. Quality will prevail; so called minorities just haven't got it yet. The notion of Quality has been the most effective bludgeon on the side of homogeneity in the modernist and postmodernist periods, despite twenty-five years of attempted revisionism. The conventional notion of good taste with which many of us were raised and educated was based on an illusion of social order that is no longer possible (or desirable) to believe in.
    We might add, however, that in making such accusations, Pindell chose to ignore another kind of bias - gender bias - which sometimes is evident in black art institutions. For example, Kinshasha Holman Conwill, executive director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, in arguing for the necessity for African-American museums, proclaimed in 1988 that:
    If we waited for Romaire Bearden, Al Loving or Betty Saar to have their retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art or in some of the wonderful contemporary museums around this country, we would be waiting a long, long time.
    In saying this, however, he ignored Betty Saar's one-person show at the Whitney in 1975 and the fact that she did not get a show at his own Studio Museum until 1980. And one black woman artist told the art historian, Corinne Robins, that when she tried to get a show at the Studio Museum, she was told "that there were all these black male artists who would have to get their chance first."
    Howardena Pindell has received two NEA grants in painting, a U.S. Japan Friendship Commission Creative Arts Fellowship and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in painting.
  16. See Judy Chicago, Through the Flower, (N.Y. 1977) and Alice Thorson, "Africobra-Then and Now". in New Art Examiner, (March, 1990), p. 26.
  17. During the 70s, much revisionist art history was written establishing that black, Latino and women artists had existed, that they were as good as anyone else or, if they weren't, it was because they were not allowed to receive the required art education and did not have the necessary kinds of support. Linda Nochlin wrote, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" in 1971; In the same year, the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibited a show called "Contemporary Black Artists in America" (which was also protested as 'colonialism'). In 1973, Germaine Greer wrote, "The Obstacle Course", listing even the most obscure female artists in the historical record. Since then, literally hundreds of books, articles and exhibitions have attempted to correct the record. As late as 1988, the Bronx Museum tried to establish with an art exhibition and book that, even though they had been ignored by traditional American historians and critics, Latino artists made fundamental contributions to mainstream modern American art history.
  18. The exhibition originally was to include only 17% women; the protest resulted in raising that percentage to 18% out of 180 artists. P. Lynn Cox, "He (Hoet) Casts the First Stone". in New Art Examiner, (October, 1992), p. 15.
  19. "Art World Racism: A Documentation", New Art Examiner, (March, 1989), p. 32.
  20. Ferris Olin and Catherine C. Brawer, "Career Markers", in Making Their Mark, (N.Y. 1989), pp. 203-36.
  21. Pindell, pp. 33-36.
  22. An average of about 93% of the artists represented by these galleries were white and 7% black. If 2.7% of the working artists are black, 7% representation is not statistically inequitable. The figures for the Guggenheim for the last 12 certainly indicates under-representation: 12.25% black at the Brooklyn Museum does not. The MOMA demonstrates under-representation but 7% black at the Whitney does not.
  23. See Berger. Also, Catherine Lord, "Bleached, straightened, and fixed", New Art Examiner, February, 1991, pp. 25-7.
  24. Berger, p.70.
  25. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, New York Public Library Desk Reference, (N.Y. 1989), p. 676.
  26. Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1991, p. 395. The 1991 figures show 208,000 professional artists (a drop of 21,000 since 1989) of which 55.3% (115,024) were women (a rise of 4.6% but a drop of 1,079), 2.7% (5,616), black (a drop of 594) and 3.2% (6,656) Hispanic (a drop of .6% and of 2,046). The proportion of minority artists thus drops from 6.5% in 1989 to 5.9% in 1991.(Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1992). It was impossible to get figures for Chicago.
    In 1983, the total number of artists working in this country was 186,000. Of these, 88,164 (47.4%) were women, 3906 (2.1%), black and 4,278 (2.3%), Hispanic. Thus, the percentage of minorities is 4.4% The average numbers for 1983-89 are 207,500 artists working, 101,468 (48.9%), women, 4,980 (2.4%), black and 6,225 (3%), Hispanic. Thus the percentage of minorities is 5.4%.
  27. (Dallas Museum of Art, 1989), p. 16.
  28. "Cowardice and Politics Ruin 'The Chicago Show'", in New Art Examiner, (Summer, 1990), p. 24.
  29. What was the result? What about "quality"? According to Yood: "The show stinks. It is mealy- mouthed Milquetoast. It is an insult to any tradition of Chicago art that I have ever encountered. It is conservative and mediocre and boring and second-rate and soporific and dull and placid and comatose. ... (Yood, p. 25-6).
  30. For example, in other exhibitions, Robert Colescott, was attacked by blacks for painting white racist paintings, but Colescott is a black satirist. and James Brown painted works which were confused with the work of a young black artist, the late Jean-Michel Basquiat. but Brown is white. See Judith Wilson, "Art", Donald Bogle, ed. Black Arts Annual, 1987/1988 (N.Y. 1989), p. 20.

Find this content at: 

© 2014 Leopold Segedin. All rights reserved.