Modernism’s Debt to Black Women

Cody Delistraty at The Paris Review:

For a long time, and even very recently, artworks with black models—or by black artists—were collected sparingly by museums, in part because they weren’t considered to fit into any standard art-historical narratives. Between 2008 and 2018, for instance, only 2.4 percent of purchases and donations in thirty of the best-known American museums were works by African American artists, according to an analysis by In Other Words and ARTNews. Only 7.6 percent of exhibitions concerned African American artists. From Modernism through postwar Abstract Expressionism, work by black painters still represented a catch-22: they were either too much about the black experience and thus didn’t seem to fit into the European timeline of art history, or they were too reliant on the abstract when the few museums that did collect black artists wanted figurative works that represented “the black experience.” “It’s pretty hard to explain by any other means than to say there was an actual, pretty systemic overlooking of this kind of work,” said Ann Temkin, the curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in a recent interview.

more here.