We are realizing that politics are not fair, if we didn't know already. The issue of race has raised its gnarled head, because it was not gone, as we had hoped, but just trying not to be noticed.
So is the art world sans discrimination? Can an artist who is talented, hard working, "contemporary", and articulate, who has produced a cohesive, challenging and thoughtful body of work automatically be in contention for museum shows, gallery representation, biennials, and acquisitions?
Is the art world engaged in its version of who do you know?
I remember seeing a Saturday Night Live skit that featured actor and comedian, Eddie Murphy dressed in white face, exposing various scenarios that only a white person would supposedly experience. (yes, Hillary and I think that show is an important barometer of current events). Murphy went to the bank and was about conduct a business transaction with the black bank manager that he encountered. A white banker stepped up quickly and announced he would take over, sending the black bank officer to lunch. The white man said, "That was close! How much do you need?" and he pulled out a bundle of cash so the white-faced Eddie Murphy could just help himself. Murphy satirized other scenes absent of black people, jokingly illustrating an imaginary secret society that operates differently when no black people are present.
What a joke!
That's how I hear many black artists feel. That stuff happens when we are not around. That special relationships exist that we will never really have. And cannot have. So where are our opportunities? Where are our mentors? Where are our connections? Can we make a cold call on a museum or New York Gallery and get a bite? Wayne Thiebald said he wore down a gallery he was interested in by showing up with his pastry paintings all the time. Would a black artist get that result, or an arrest record for harassment or worse?
I'd like to know what you think and I'd like to hear your solutions?
My first suggestion is to work like you love art. That means working every day. Art is our job and not something to do when in the mood.
My second recommendation is to read about artists, subscribe to art publications (go to www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com or other book sellers for selections or go to their land shops to browse the mags in person) You can also research art publications on line and read some articles for free.
Make sure to attend some art exhibitions. I don't say all, we have to do our own work, but a venue such as Art Chicago gives one an opportunity to see a lot of art at once. Figure out who inspires you and go see them. I always want to see Richard Mayhew. My work is no way like his except I love color, but I always want to see his work at N'Namdi Gallery. I will always go see the Harlem Renaissance artists such as Lois Mailou Jones, Archibald Motley, Jr., etc. Among other internationally known, contemporary there are too many to name, but Waghechi Mutu, Alison and Betye Saar, Elizabeth Catlett, Preston Jackson, Richard Hunt (saw a piece of his from 1961 at Art Chicago!) are among my favorites.
I try to see major museum shows. I saw the current Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer exhibitions at the Chicago Art Institute. I am planning to see the Renaissance Society exhibition "Black Is, Black Ain't".
Those of you who already do this know that if you go meet white artists, Latino artists, Asian artists, etc. you can make good friends who will share what they know with you. I will talk about some of these folks that I know as I go along.
If you segregate yourself you will remain segregated. But that is a hard road to navigate, including meeting the people who can help you and getting those folks to take your work seriously.
I know that is how Kerry James Marshall has managed to get so far. He has the work ethic , he has the quality of work, he is articulate about his work and how it fits into the contemporary lexicon and he knew how to get connected!
Kerry, please share your wisdom with us. You can hear him here.
Gotta go work. Please tell me what you think! Share your art.
Above is "Revealed: Truths and Myths"
acrylic on canvas by Joyce Owens