The Feminism and
Visual Culture Reader
Routledge Taylor & Francis Croup
LONDON AND NEW YORK
THE TRIPLE NEGATION OF COLORED WOMEN ARTISTS
THESE ARE INTERESTING TIMES in which to be a colored woman artist (henceforth a CWA).1 Forces of censorship and repression in this country are gathering steam and conviction as those same forces in other countries are being overturned or under
mined. No one should be surprised at these inverse parallel developments. Sociologists know
that groups tend to increase the internal pressures toward conformity and homogeneity in order to maintain their identities against external pressures forcing dissolution into a larger whole. And just as American society is now imposing a Euroethnic, Christian, heterosexual male ethos on all of us in order to maintain a uniquely American identity against the incur sion of other, emerging democracies in Russia and Central Europe, similarly the art world is reasserting a Euroethnic, heterosexual male aesthetic on all of us in order to resist the incur sion of gays, coloreds, and practitioners of outlaw sexuality into its inner sanctum.2 In particular, I will argue that the ideology of postmodernism functions to repress and exclude CWAs from the art-historical canon of the Euroethnic mainstream. Correctly perceiving the artefacts produced by CWAs as competitors for truth and a threat to the cultural homogeneity of the Euroethnic tradition, it denies those artefacts their rightful status as innovations relative to that tradition through ad hoc disclaimers of the validity of concepts such as “truth” and “innovation.”
Item, 1982: NEA funding for the Washington Women’s Art Center ceases after congres- sional protest over their “Erotic Art Show.” Item, 1983: Rosalind Krauss explains to her fellow symposiasts at the NEA Art Criticism Symposium that she doubts that there is any unrecog nized African-American art of quality because, if it doesn’t bring itself to her attention, it probably doesn’t exist. Item, as of this writing: No CWA is invited to show in any Whitney Biennal, ever. Item, 1987: Donald Kuspit publishes in his vanity journal a seven-page essay devoted to the thesis that my writing is a symposium of mental illness and my work is not worth discussing.3 Item, 1988: an unusually strong group show of the work of colored women artists opens at the Intar Gallery in Manhattan and receives no attention from the local Euroethnic press, with the exception of Arlene Raven’s intelligent review in The Village Voice.4 Item, 1989: Christina Orr-Cahall cancels a retrospective of the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe at the Corcoran Galley. Item, 1989: Jesse Helms protests public funding of Andres Serrano’s work by the Southeast Center for Contemporary Art’s Awards in the Visual Arts. Item, 1989: Roberta Smith explains to film interviewer Terry McCoy that the real problem with the art of African-Americans is that it just isn’t any good, that it would be in mainstream galleries if it were, that she’s been up to the Studio Museum a couple of times and hasn’t seen anything worthwhile, that it’s all too derivative, and so on.5 Item, 1990: The National Endowment for the Arts withdraws funding from an exhibition catalog about AIDS at Artists’ Space. Item, 1990: Hilton Kramer devotes two essays in the New York Observer to protesting the current interest in issues of race and gender that, he claims, leaves quality by the wayside.6
In a more intellectually sophisticated environment, these howlers would be accorded exactly the weight they deserve, that is, none. In this decade’s art world – as we can see, a world not exactly overpopulated by mental giants7 – they are dangerously repressive in effect. Instead of being recognized and ridiculed for what they are, namely, obscene theatrical gestures without redeeming social content, they legitimate and encourage further such obscenities among those who are naturally inclined to them, and intimidate the naturally docile into self censorship. We can expect these repressive measures to increase in number, severity, and ugliness as those relegated to the margins succeed in greater numbers in gaining access to unjustly withheld social and economic advantages within the mainstream Euroethnic art world.s
At the same time, on the other hand, a few CWAs recently have begun to receive some modest measure of attention from the Euroethnic art world. We have been invited to show in previously all-Euroethnic group exhibitions, galleries, or museums, and we have received some critical attention for work that for decades was largely passed over in silence, as though it did not exist. No protest against the de facto censorship of CWAs has ever been mounted
of the sort that has rightly greeted the recent attempted censorship of the work of male artists Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, or David Wojnarowicz. Until very recently, CWAs were ignored as a matter of course.9 In the last few years, CWAs have begun to exist in the consciousness of the more progressive, intellectually oriented circles of the Euroethnic artworld.
Certain factors can be cited to explain the recent visibility of CWAs. In 1987, without fanfare and at considerable professional risk to himself, Michael Brenson began to review the work of African-American artists in the New York Times on a regular basis. The appearance of these reviews, backed by Brenson’s authority and that of the New York Times, effected a profound change in the conventions of Euroethnic art writing. By approaching African- American art with the same attention, respect, and critical standards he applied to Euroethnic art, Brenson singlehandedly exposed the tacit racism of ignoring African-American art that had prevailed among virtually all other Euroethnic art critics.10 The same year, Howardena Pindell compiled and published “Art World Racism: A Documentation,” which was excerpted for broader art-world consumption in the New Art Examiner in 1989.” This work documented the hard statistics of African-American exclusion from Euroethnic galleries, museums, and publications for all to see. The statistics were so incriminating and inexcusable that they effec tively foreclosed further disingenuity or rationalization of practices now clearly identifiable as racist. Both of these efforts have sparked energetic and conscientious attempts at reparation in many quarters.12 Because racism and sexism often go together, amelioration of both together can be achieved by showcasing the work of CWAs.
I am encouraged by this recent development, but I am also suspicious of its long-term significance. It coincides too neatly with an interest in difference and otherness in other fields such as comparative literature, history, and anthropology, in which the main subject of investi gation is the person, not the art fact. Euroethnic preoccupation with these issues in the art world forces a level of social and political self-criticism and scrutiny of entrenched conventions of aesthetic evaluation that is altogether salutary, and needed. But the object of preoccupation defined by these issues is not the artifact but rather its producer as “other.” Not the work of art, but rather the artist often provides the content and themes of interviews, photoimages, conferences, and critical essays. This means substituting social relations for works of art as an object of investigation. And in an arena as ill-equipped to investigate social relations as the art world, this means imposing only slightly more sophisticated racial and gender stereotypes rather than looking at art.
For example, a CWA who expresses political anger or who protests political injustice in her work may be depicted as hostile or aggressive; or a CWA who deals with gender and sexuality in her work may be represented as seductive or manipulative. Or a CWA who chooses to do her work rather than cultivate political connections within the art world may be seen as exotic or enigmatic. These are all familiar ways of stereotyping the African-American “other.” When the art itself stymies the imposition of such stereotypes, the Euroethnic viewer is confronted with a choice: either to explore the singular significance of the art itself – which naturally requires a concerted effort of discernment and will for most Euroethnics — or to impose those tired stereotypes on the artist instead. For two-cylinder intellects, the latter alternative is the most popular.13
Of course this tendency to focus on the artist at the expense of the work may be explained differently, as a reflexive by-product of a self-protective, general reaction to most mainstream contemporary Euroethnic art, which compels its viewers to focus on the artist out of sheer desperation, because the art itself is so boring. But for CWAs, this focus on the person rather than the art is particularly troublesome, first, because it turns the artist into little more than
a cryptic, exotic object that provides the occasion for Euroethnic self-analysis. I am, after all, not an “other” to myself-, that is a category imposed on me by Euroethnics who purport to refer to me but in fact denote their own psychosociological constructs. If I choose to explore those constructs in my work, I am investigating Euroethnic psychosociology, not myself, which merely compounds the blunder of withdrawing the focus from the work and turning it instead onto me. This is the blunder of a bad conscience that seeks to deflect self-scrutiny, by re directing it onto the artist, at the expense of full attention to the sociocultural meaning of that artist’s chosen form of self-expression, namely, art. This tack, of changing the subject, is just another way to silence those for whom artistic censorship has been a way of life. Euroethnics who have a genuine interest in the forms of self-expression of artists from a different culture do not dwell intellectually on the otherness of the artists for long. They get to work doing the necessary research into that culture, and achieving the necessary familiarity with it, that will yield the insights into those alien forms of cultural expression they purport to seek.14
Second, focusing on the otherness of the artist rather than the meaning of the art falsely presupposes a background of Euroethnic homogeneity against which the person can be iden tified as an “other.” This perpetuates the ideological myth of minority status on which racists rely to exercise their strategies of disempowerment. Politically concerned Euroethnics would do better to reflect on their collusion in those strategies – for example, isolating a few token coloreds to exhibit in predominantly Euroethnic group shows, or to write about in predom inantly Euroethnic art publications – against the reality of their constituting 15 percent of the world’s population while consuming or stockpiling 85 percent of its resources.
Third, CWAs in particular suffer from this focus because they have to battle gender and race stereotypes simultaneously. Well-meaning critics and curators who think it is possible to make meaningful generalizations about the art of all women, all African-Americans, all Central Europeans, Italians, or gay men are depriving themselves and their audiences of the paradigm experience art is supposed to provide: to heighten one’s appreciation of the singular and orig inal qualities of an individual artifact in cultural relation to its producer, its viewer, and its social environment.15 Whenever someone deflects attention from my work to my identity as a CWA, I start to get nervous about whether they are actually seeing my work at all.
For these reasons, the remainder of this discussion is going to be devoted to a system atic analysis of the Euroethnic art world’s negation of CWAs along three dimensions: as coloreds, as women, and as artists. I want to offer a systematic analysis that can explain why, for example, no one feels the need even to defend or justify Betty Saar’s exclusion from the “Magiciens de la Terre” exhibit; why the exhibition “Autobiography: In Her Own Image” went virtually unremarked by the Euroethnic press; why the repression and artistic censorship of PWAs16 is seen as so much more urgent and threatening than that of CWAs; and why, in general, I am not yet convinced that the repression and artistic censorship of CWAs is a thing of the past.
Artistic success in the contemporary Euroethnic art world is perceived by all as the payoff of a zero-sum game, in which one player’s win is another player’s loss.17 For example, not everyone can show her work at MOMA. So, it is reasoned, if you show yours there, you decrease my chances of showing mine there. So in order for me to increase my chances of showing mine there, I must, first of all, work actively to decrease yours — through professional back-stabbing, bad-mouthing, covert manipulation, dishonesty, false and loudly trumpeted I-was-there-first self-aggrandizement, etc. Second, I must work actively to increase my chances: by tailoring my work according to trends established by those already exhibited at MOMA,18 courting the powerful, offering bribes in a variety of currencies, and censoring my impulse to protest when witnessing injustice, so as not to antagonize anyone who might eventually
help me to get my work shown at MOMA. I must deploy similar strategies for obtaining gallery representation, selling work, or getting critical attention for work. This means that individual artists and their allies see one another as professional competitors, and the assets of others as threats to the ability of each to achieve maximal professional success.
“Maximal professional success,” in turn, is defined by admission into a circumscribed set of art institutions – museums, galleries, collections, and art publications — that constitute the Euroethnic mainstream. The ideological content of that mainstream changes with fluctuations of intellectual fashion in other fields (such as Englightenment aesthetics, analytic philosophy, or continental poststructuralism). But the underlying ideological commitment of the Euroethnic mainstream is to its own perpetuation, in whatever guise. In the Renaissance, this commit ment was manifested as a belief in the ability of men creatively to transform the sensuous and material in the service of the intellectual and spiritual; that is, to transcend the natural physical realm associated with the secular female. In modernism, this same commitment was manifested as a belief in the progression of art made by men from the concretely represen tational to the intellectual and abstract. In postmodernism, it is manifested in a dissolution of faith in intellectual progress, and a corresponding attitude of mourning for the past glories and achievements of all previous stages of Euroethnic art history, which are memorialized and given iconic status through appropriation into contemporary art-world artifacts.
In virtually every field to which women have gained entry in significant numbers, the status of that field and its perception as providing significant social opportunity has dimin ished: If a woman can do it, the reasoning goes, then what is there to feel superior about? Therefore the first line of defense is to protest roundly that a woman can’t do it. The second, when that doesn’t work, is to conclude that it’s not worth doing. Thus it is no accident that the advent of postmodernism coincides with the acceptance of Euroethnic women artists into the inner sanctum of that tradition. Their success forces a choice of inference: Either women are just as capable of intellectual transcendence as men, and just what is needed to bring that progression to its next stage, or else their presence undermines the very possibility of further progression altogether. It is quite clear which inference has been chosen. Not coincidentally, Euroethnic postmodernism expresses a newly pessimistic, nihilistic, and self-defeated view of the social and intellectual status of art at just the moment that women have begun to join its major ranks in significant numbers.
Euroethnic postmodernism’s attitude of mourning assumes our arrival at the end of the art-historical progression, and therefore the impossibility of further innovation indigenous to it. This means, in particular, that innovations that occur outside of that progression, or by those who are not accepted into it, cannot be acknowledged to exist as innovations at all. Accordingly, the normative category or originality against which art within the Euroethnic tradition was judged is replaced by the purportedly descriptive categories of anomaly, margin- ality, and otherness. These aesthetically noncommittal categories can be deployed to acknow ledge the existence of such innovations without having to credit them normatively as innovations at all.
Relative to the commitment of the Euroethnic mainstream to its own self-perpetuation and its rejection of any further innovation indigenous to it, the very different concerns that may find expression in the art of CWAs — identity, autobiography, selfhood, racism, ethnic tradition, gender issues, spirituality, etc. – constitute a triple-barreled threat. First, this work has no halcyon past to mourn. Instead, it offers an alternative art-historical progression that narrates a history of prejudice, repression, and exclusion, and looks, not backward, but forward to a more optimistic future. It thereby competes with Euroethnic art history as a candidate for truth. Second, it refutes the disingenuous Euroethnic postmodern claim that there is no
objective truth of the matter about anything, by presenting objective testimony of the truth of prejudice, repression, and exclusion.19 Third, it belies the Euroethnic postmodern stance that claims the impossibility of innovation, by presenting artifacts that are, in fact, innovative relative to the Euroethnic tradition — innovative not only in the range and use of media they deploy but also in the sociocultural and aesthetic content they introduce. In all of these ways, the art of CWAs is an innovative threat to the systemic intellectual integrity and homogeneity of the Euroethnic art tradition. And so, because artistic success is defined within that tradi tion as a zero-sum game, these threats must be eliminated as quickly and completely as possible. Thus are CWAs negated as artists by the Euroethnic art world.
The Euroethnic postmodernist stance of mourning, in combination with its negation of CWAs as artists, provides the surest proof (in case we needed it) that the Euroethnic art world is fueled primarily by a spirit of entrepreneurship, not one of intellectual curiosity, and that its definition of professional success is skewed accordingly. Only a field that defined professional success in economic rather than intellectual terms could seriously maintain that the art of CWAs had nothing new to teach it. Whereas history, literature, anthropology, soci ology, psychology, etc. have been scrambling for almost two decades to adjust or modify their canons so as to accommodate the new insights and information to be culled from the life experience of those previously excluded from them, only the Euroethnic art world is still having trouble acknowledging that those insights and information actually exist. In this field, if they don’t exist at auctions or in major collections, they don’t exist at all. Critics and cura tors who collaborate in this ideology sacrifice their intellectual integrity for the perquisites of market power. This is the payoff that the zero-sum game of Euroethnic artistic success ulti mately offers all its players.
The Euroethnic contemporary art world is administered primarily by Euroethnic men. As in all walks of life, there are good men and there are bad men. In this arena, the bad ones are blessedly easy to detect. Their behavior and their pronouncements indicate that they eval uate works of art according to their market value rather than according to their aesthetic value. For example, they may refuse even to acknowledge the aesthetic value of work that is not for sale in a major gallery, or they may select artifacts to exhibit or write about solely from those sources. Or they may defend the aesthetic values of very expensive artifacts at great length but on visibly shaky conceptual grounds. Or they may be more visibly impressed by the aesthetic value of a work as its market value increases. Indeed, lacking any broader historical or sociocultural perspective, they may even believe that aesthetic value is nothing but market value. And, believing that only artifacts produced by other Euroethnic men can safeguard the intellectual integrity and homogeneity of the Euroethnic tradition, they distribute payoffs, in proportion to the exercise of the winning zero-sum game strategies earlier described, primarily to other Euroethnic men.
Some women and coloreds collude in the perpetuation of this game, by playing according to its prescribed rules. Euroethnic women who compete with one another and with colored women for its payoffs divide themselves from CWAs and ally themselves with the Euroethnic men who distribute those payoffs and who are their primary recipients. They thereby ally themselves with the underlying ideological agenda of perpetuating the tradition of Euroethnic art as an intellectually homogeneous, systemic whole. This is to concur and collaborate with the Renaissance, modernist, and postmodernist agenda of implicitly denying the legitimacy — indeed, the very possibility — of intellectually and spiritually transcendent artifacts produced by women.
Put another way: By accepting payoffs for playing the zero-sum game of artistic success according to its prescribed rules, some Euroethnic women collaborate in the repression of
the alternative art history to which the art of women in general, as well as that of CWAs, often gives expression. Thus CWAs are negated as women not only through the more brutal, overt attempts at eradication by some Euroethnic male art-world administrators but whenever a Euroethnic woman abnegates her connection as a woman to CWAs, in order to receive the payoffs available for repressing them. It is painfully humiliating to witness a Euroethnic woman simultaneously prostituting herself and betraying us in this way.
Similarly for colored men and their connection with CWAs. All colored artists bear the burden of reflexive eradication from the Euroethnic mainstream, and of the reflexive devalu ation of their work as a result.20 Much has been written about this recently, and I will not rehearse those arguments here.21 My point, here as earlier, is the same. To the extent that colored artists compete for positioning, attention, and the payoffs of winning the zero-sum game of Euroethnic artistic success, they abide by the rules of that game. In so doing, they compound their reflexive repression by the Euroethnic mainstream, by dividing themselves from one another and negating themselves and their historical tradition for the sake of the payoffs that game promises.
This has nothing to do with what kind of artifact — abstract or representational, in tradi tion media or new genres – any such artist produces. An unusually dimwitted defense of the repression of colored artists has it that African-Americans are naturally most adept at expressing themselves creatively in music rather than in the visual arts, and that therefore their attempts in the latter media are invariably derivative, superficial, or disappointing. No one who has studied the artifactual strategies of survival and flourishing of colonialized peoples under hege monic rule anywhere could take such an argument seriously. But then of course no one who would offer such an argument would be capable of the minimal intellectual effort of research necessary to disprove it. The fact of the matter is that, like other colonialized peoples, African- Americans must master two cultures, not just one, in order to survive as whole individuals, and master them they do. They contribute fresh styles and idioms to the visual arts just as abundantly as they do — and have always done — to music, literature, and film.
The Euroethnic tradition has always needed these extrinsic creative resources in order to flourish, and in the past has simply expropriated and used them without permission or acknow ledgment.22 Had that tradition long since invited their producers into the Euroethnic main stream, it might have been better armed, with creative strategies of cohesion and survival, for withstanding the censorship attacks that continue to issue from within its own fundamentalist ranks. It is not surprising that blind reviewing is virtually inconceivable in contemporary Euroethnic art, whereas it is the norm in other areas of higher education. As an intellectually integral and homogeneous system, the Euroethnic art tradition could not possibly survive a convention of evaluation that ignored the racist, sexist, and aesthetically irrelevant social and political connections that hold it together. That is why it rewards all of us so richly for follow ing the rules of the zero-sum game.
It is very difficult for any of us not to play this game, as it often seems to be the only game in town. But in fact that is not true. It is not true that Euroethnic payoffs of the zero- sum game are the only measures of artistic success, nor the most important over the long term, nor even the most satisfying ones. There is great satisfaction in affecting or transforming the audience to one’s work, and in making those personal connections that enable the work to function as a medium of communication. There is great satisfaction in learning to see what ever resources are freely available in one’s environment as grist for the mill of artistic imagination, and indeed, in seeing one’s environment in general in that way. There is satis faction in giving work away, and in avoiding or refusing the corrupting influences of those payoffs, and in reaping the rewards of authentic interpersonal relationships as a consequence.
And there is very great satisfaction in not caring enough for those payoffs to be willing to follow the rules in order to receive them: in not caring enough to tailor one’s work accord ingly, or offer bribes, or curry favor, or protect one’s position by remaining silent in the face of injustice, or by undercutting others.
In fact the very conception of artistic success as the payoff of a zero-sum game is faulty, because the price of playing by those rules is the de facto deterioration, over the long term, of the aesthetic integrity of the artifacts produced in accordance with them.23 Those who play that game according to the rules and win the perquisites of market power may, indeed, achieve artistic success in the Euroethnic art world. But the price they pay is alienation from their own creative impulses and from their own work as a vehicle of self-expression; addiction to the shallow, transitory material and political reassurances of worth that are recruited to take their place; sycophancy and betrayal from those they temporarily view as allies; and mistrust and rejection from those who might otherwise have been friends. It hardly seems worth it.
Because commitment to that game is so self-defeating and divisive for all who try to play it, I do not believe the triple negation of colored women artists will come to an end until that game itself is over. It will come to an end, that is, when the Euroethnic art world stops trying to negate them as players, and when women and coloreds and Euroethnics stop trying to negate themselves and one another in order to gain entry to it.
I have suggested that Euroethnic postmodernism is finally an attempt to change a few of the rules, hastily, in order to preserve intact the stature of the winners and their payoffs. I neglected to add that that attempt is clearly failing. While larger and larger quantities of money, power and inflated prose are being invested in more and more desiccated and impo tent caricatures of Euroethnic art, those who have been excluded from that system have been inventing and nurturing their own idioms, visions, and styles of expression out of that greatest of all mothers, namely, Necessity. That is our strength and our solace. That is why the Euroethnic art world needs our resources and strategies — as it always has – in order to progress to the next stage of development. But we are no longer so preoccupied with other matters as to overlook backdoor expropriation of those resources, nor to take comfort in being the invisible powers behind the throne. As we come to feel the strength of our numbers and the significance of our creative potentialities, we approach a readiness to drop out of the zero-sum game and claim our roles as players in a very different kind of game, in which the payoffs are not competitive but, rather, cooperative. In this kind of game, no one has to lose in order for someone else to win, because the payoffs – self-expression, personal and creative integrity, freedom, resourcefulness, friendship, trust, mutual appreciation, connectedness – are not scarce resources over which any player must be attacked, negated, or sacrificed. Nor are the rules of this game — mutual support, honesty, dialogue, sharing of resources, recep tivity, self-reflectiveness, acceptance — of such a kind as to butcher the self and cheapen one’s central commitments. It does seem, in so many respects, to be a more appealing game to play. The only question is whether we are all wise enough to be willing to play it.
Notes 1 Let’s begin with a word about terminology. I do not like the currently fashionable phrase “people of
color” for referring to Americans of African, Asian, Native American, or Hispanic descent. It is syntac tically cumbersome. It also has an excessively genteel and euphemistic ring to it, as though there were some ugly social fact about a person we needed to simultaneously denote and avoid, by performing elaborate grammatical circumlocutions. Moreover, discarding previous phrases, such as “Negro,” “black,” “colored,” or “Afro-American,” as unfashionable or derogatory implies that there is some neutral, polit ically correct phrase that can succeed in denoting the relevant group without taking on the derogatory
and insulting connotations a racist society itself attaches to such groups. There is no such phrase. As long as African-Americans are devalued, the inherently neutral words coined to denote them will them selves eventually become terms of devaluation. Finally, the phrase is too inclusive for my purposes in this essay. I want to talk specifically about women artists of African descent, in such a way as to include those Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans who publicly acknowledge and iden tify with their African-American ancestry, and exclude those who do not. The term colored seems both etiologically and metaphorically apt.
2 Needless to say, this explanation is compatible with self-interested attempts of conservative congressmen and senators to find some local scapegoat to substitute for foreign communism, in order to divert attention away from their ineffectuality in simply representing their constituencies.
3 Donald Kuspit, “Adrian Piper: Self-Healing through Meta-Art,” Art Criticism 3, no. 3 (September 1987), pp. 9-16.
4 Arlene Raven, “Colored,” The Village Voice, May 31, 1988, p. 92. The title of the exhibition was “Autobiography: In Her Own Image,” curated by Howardena Pindell.
5 Telephone conversation between the author and Terry McCoy, Fall 1989. 6 Dennis Szakacs, of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA), provided the following
statement: “Attempts were made to obtain copies of Kramer’s articles from the New York Observer as well as from Kramer himself. An Observer staff person explained that they were not equipped to handle such requests while Kramer, in a telephone conversation, acknowledged that the articles existed and agreed to send copies. After many weeks and several unreturned messages, the Kramer articles have yet to arrive.”
7 I am not an intellectual elitist, but I do believe that racism, sexism, homophobia, and intolerance gener ally involve cognitive deficits and elementary errors in reasoning and judgment. [. . .]
8 It’s so amusing how arguments that there are no more margins always seem to come from those in the center. Just as it’s amusing how arguments that there is no more avant garde always seem to come from those who have gotten the greatest economic mileage from being a part of it. In general, it’s immensely entertaining to watch the keepers of the brass ring start to deny that it exists just when they notice that the disenfranchised are about to grab it. No doubt this is pure coincidence.
9 My personal experience is of having been included in “definitive” major museum shows of conceptual art in the late 1960s, until the art-world contacts I made then met me face-to-face, found out I was a woman, and disappeared from my life; and in “definitive” major museum shows of Body Art and women’s art in the early 1970s, until the contacts I made then found out I was colored and similarly disappeared from my life. Although I have had virtually no contact with major museums since those years, I fully expect the situation to improve as all those individuals die off and are replaced by smarter ones.
10 An attempt to sully Brenson’s achievement by portraying him as moved by professional self-interest recently appeared in Spy magazine (J.J. Hunsecker, “Naked City: The Times,” Spy [April 1990], p. 48). This uncommonly ugly and snide article backfires, by revealing the author’s own inherent racism. That the very choice to treat Brenson’s decision to write about African-American artists as cause for ridi culing him itself demeans those artists doesn’t seem to have occurred to Hunsecker. Whatever Brenson’s actual motives were, they do not undermine the cultural and historical importance of his actions and their consequences. But as described in Spy, they at least provide a refreshing contrast to those sterling motives, so frequently professed by the politically correct, that nevertheless fail to spark any effective political action at all.
11 Howardena Pindell, “Art World Racism: A Documentation,” The New Art Examiner 16, no. 7 (March 1989), pp. 32-36.
12 And brazenly arrogant bullet biting in others, as some of the previous items suggest. 13 And make no mistake about it: For the two-cylinder intellect, these are mutually exclusive alternatives.
An identifying feature of such cognitive malfunctions is the absence of any sustained attention to the work itself. Thus, for example, Robert Morgan, in “Adrian Piper,” Arts Magazine 63, no. 10 (Summer 1989), p. 99, does not bother describing the content of the work at all. Instead he generously concen trates on offering free career advice as to how, by doing a different work that “told us more about Adrian Piper and how she as a person had personally suffered from racial prejudice and abuse (if this is indeed the case),” I could have avoided hurting the feelings of “anyone who has worked in ghettos and has read what black activist writers have written, and has tried to put into practice some positive methods for ending bigotry on a day-to-day basis.” To all of you out there who satisfy this descrip tion, I want to take this opportunity to apologize to you for hurting your feelings, for failing to devote
my work to “autobiographical ideas and constructs” that confirm how much I “personally [have] suffered from racial prejudice and abuse,” and for failing more generally to just plain mind my own business. Tant pis!
14 Christopher Isherwood’s lifelong involvement with the translation, exposition, and practice of Vedanta philosophy would provide a paradigmatic example of this, as would Robert Farris Thompson’s involve* ment with African and African-American culture.
15 “All-black” shows are in this respect unlike, for example, all-Russian or all-Italian shows. Whereas all- Russian shows function unproblematically, to showcase the singularity of artifacts for an interested and enthusiastic public, all-African-American shows often function controversially to demonstrate, to a resistant and defensive public, that original and singular artifacts produced by African-American artists actually exist. I am proud to have shown in the company chosen for the all-African-American shows in which I have participated. But clearly, the necessity of these shows has been more didactic than aesthetic, regardless of the valuable aesthetic qualities that inhere in the artifacts shown, or even the motives and interests of their curators. That the charge of “ghettoization” is thus asymmetrically applied only to all-African-American shows signals the inability of the accuser to perceive and appreciate this work on its own terms. (To see this, one need only consider the likely reaction to a mostly African American show, mounted in a major Euroethnic museum, including just a small sample of Euroethnic artists. The very concept boggles the mind.)
16 People With AIDS. This phrase was coined in the gay community a few years ago so as to avoid the dehumanizing and victimizing connotations of phrases such as “HIV-positives” and “AIDS victims.”
17 The classic text in game theory still seems to me to be the best. See R. Duncan Luce and Howard Raiffa, Games and Decisions (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1957), especially chapter 4.
18 I discuss this phenomenon at greater length in “Power Relations within Existing Art Institutions,” reprinted in my Out of Order, Out of Sight, vol. II. There I treat it as a matter of institutional suasion. But anyone with a talent for market analysis and a few months of careful study of major New York gallery exhibitions can figure out what kind of work to produce in order to elicit market demand, if that is one’s motive for producing the work.
19 Colored proponents of poststructuralist discourse often seem not to grasp the self-negating implica tions of advocating the view that objective truth doesn’t exist and that all discourses are suspect, nor the self-defeating implications of adopting what amounts to an unintelligible private language dis course in order to defend these views. But I believe that most Euroethnic poststructuralists grasp these implications quite clearly. That’s why they welcome their colored cohorts into the academy so enthus iastically.
20 See note 9. 21 Patricia Failing, “Black Artists Today: A Case of Exclusion?” Art News (March 1989), pp. 124—131;
Michael Brenson, “Black Artists: A Place in the Sun,” The New York Times, March 12, 1989, Cl; Lowery Sims, “The Mirror the Other,” Artforum 28, no. 7 (March 1990), pp. 111-115.
22 A recent example of this depredation is the treatment of graffiti art by the Euroethnic mainstream. Unlike other media of expression in hip-hop culture, such as rap music, which has received sustained attention and encouragement by the music establishment, graffiti art was off the streets, on the walls of major galleries, in tire work of various young up-and-coming Euroethnic painters, and out the art- world door within two seasons. Now that its idioms have been furtively incorporated into tire Euroethnic canon, it is once again safe to minimize its originality and significance as an independent movement.
23 See note 18; also see “A Paradox of Conscience,” in my Out of Order, Out of Sight, vol. II.