The past four years, more than any prior within the aughts, have been tremendously trying on Black optimism. Fueled by a mounting list of racial tensions and injustices, like-minded citizens have gathered to unite cultural consciousness against the abuses of the Black body. This is, of course, most urgent in the fight for Black lives—but in totality also extends to Black minds and intellectual contributions. Collective actions across the country have been taken to bring visibility to or further protest the systemic inequalities that enable Black voices to be omitted from conversation.
As a Black female writer and curator, such actions have left with me questions about my own culpability in such omissions of visibility, and the ways in which I can challenge the institutions I work within to share my concern. The contemporary art world, which often prides itself on its political consciousness, has been sparingly vocal in response to criticism of primarily White centered exhibitions and institutional staffing.
Within the following interviews, I hope to have a conversation about what role arts administrators and their granting institutions play in the socio-political movements of people of color. As cultural conduits, do we bare a responsibility to address them—or is the “white” cube set up intentionally to play the publically impartial pillar? Is the answer different for different sorts of institutions? Perhaps community driven arts spaces have a different voice and different culpability than private or commercial spaces do.
Specifically, as it relates to the curatorial—What does it mean to exhibition-ize a moment that is currently living and breathing? Can such a thing even be done well? Curatorial perspectives are often inherently distanced ones. Academic mediation from a third party who may not be intimately engaged in the same way as the artist sometimes leads to misinterpretations or blind spots— even with the best of intentions. Artists dirty their hands in the topic of their work in ways that I don’t know if curators can. Exhibition organizers often hide behind “objectivity” even when that assertion is nonsense and that can be damaging. I recognize that there is a lot of space between what curators would like to produce, and what board members, museum directors, and other authorities will sanction. There is also a lot of space between what curators would like to communicate plainly, and the need for institutional language. The many hands exhibitions pass through before approval and completion often lead to a sedated version of the original idea. It no longer reads with urgent, political energy. And, with inequity at the heart of the conversation, what are the most productive ways to steward artists of color into the canon of not only contemporary art but a much needed revisionist art history?
This guest editorial will seek the voices of Black artists, curators, and institutional administrators throughout the country regarding these questions, and their hopes for the future of people of color in contemporary art.
Ashley Stull Meyers is a contemporary Arts Writer, Essayist, and Curatorial Collaborator. She has curated exhibitions and programming at numerous institutions across the Bay Area, and has been in academic residence at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art (Omaha, NE) and the Banff Centre (Banff, Alberta). She is currently based in Portland, OR. Twitter: @astullmeyers