Monday, November 5, 2007

Is there room at the inn for Kara Walker?

This isn't a review of Kara Walker's retrospective at the Whitney, nor her new solo show at Sikkema Jenkins & co.


This is a post where I'm going to bring up something that the art world continually ignores.

No, it's not the "feminist artist" mystique, or whatnot.

And truth be told, if I hear of one more gathering, conference, or "artist talk" put on by priviledged WASPY MFA-educated, gallery repped mid-20s to late 40-something women screaming and complaining of how they're "underrepresented" in the art world, I just may take up arms.

In this case, no, what bothers me MUCH more than any "under-representation" of the female is those of color.

I just got back from a trip to West Virginia, and truth be told, I witnessed more faces of color there than I ever do at a Chelsea gallery opening.

That is UNLESS those of color happen to be like Ms. Walker-- doing work that questions issues of "identity."

Let me say this, if Ms. Walker, perhaps, were doing work more along the lines of the Elizabeth Peytons, Karen Kilimniks, Dana Schutzs or Cecily Browns of the world-- would she have ever gotten to the status where she is now? (I.E., a Whitney retrospective?)

Would Walker have ever been giving the carte-blanche acceptance that Ms. Emin was graced with after "All the men I've ever slept with?"

Highly doubtful.

She would have been crucified.

Because Walker continues to crank out pieces that address what the Caucasian-dominated art glitteratti feels a "black artist" SHOULD be concentrating on, she's been elevated to something not unlike that of a modern minstrel herself, sans tap shoes.

I find it a hell of a lot more disgusting that the few top-publicized artists of color that I can name on my fingers-- Ofilli, Odita, Walker, and Pope L.--are only accepted because their work addresses "being black."

Pardon me while my blood pressure rises just a bit more, but it's not like MFA programs are asking the Schutz's of the world: "Can you have your work address what it's like to be young, white and immediately well-off financially?"

I dare the art world to elevate one artist of color to the forefront whose work might concentrate on color, line, form; political upheaval and protest; optical illusion; or experimental installation.

This is not to say Ms. Walker is not one of the more talented individuals continually making controversial and well-received work; as well as all those artists I've previously named.

I'm thinking of the recent beautifully painted show by artist Julie Heffernan.

I looked at each of her pieces and noted the skill and precision it took to paint those-- as well as the alabaster skin of each of the "self-portraits."

Could a black female artist have been given that type of reception as well?

I have a wish for the art world's eye of the needle to expand just a little beyond the tragic historical past of a people and perhaps more on the triumph of living in the today, as well as opening up the rosters to more of the least expected rather than "Here we go again."

Over and out.


Christiane D said...

Thank you for eloquently and poignantly outlining my daily frustrations, as an artist of color, as they say.
My situation further complicated by the sheer fact of being multi-ethnic.

In the "white" circles of art, there is sheer confusion as to why I'm not, as you so well put it "crank(ing) out pieces that address what the Caucasian-dominated art glitteratti feels a "black artist" SHOULD be concentrating on".

Same goes for the "black" circles of art, for I don't seem to be dark enough to experience and express the discrimination I see and feel.

Hence, as an artist, who deals in the social-political, the psychological, the dream states, I am relegated to a limbo, not of my making, watching the art world pretend that it isn't as racist as it's corporate counterparts.
What a Ha!

Oly said...

Hi, Christiane.
Thanks so much back for your comment.

I certainly do know several "artists of color" (how sad that I even have to refer to it as that)-- but in each of their cases, yes, they have either had an extremely difficult time "proving themselves" and their work; or yes, they do indeed "fit the mold" of what the art world is "looking for."

I.E., their work focuses on issues of "identity," etc..

I personally am starting my own Piece De Resistance on "How to succeed as a half-Venezuelan/half white chick art blogger", but I'm not sure how it will sell.

So instead, I just keep typing and say what I feel.

Keep up the good fight, chickadee.


Erich Kuersten said...

Nicely said, Oly. That sort of backhanded racism is evident all over the arts, echoing like a ping pong ball.

To me it betrays the common fear running through the art world: fear of not having perfect taste, the insecurity of needing art to "signify" rather than "just be." People are so culturally scrambled they cling to any evidence of a rooted common heritage--itself an empty signifier for genuine human warmth and connection.

When there's a level playing field, one can't judge anyone on anything except individual merit... if you secretly don't think you've got merit, that's a damn scary idea. Prejudice, dogma and cliche become like comfortable chains keeping you safe and weighed down through the hurricane of aesthetically attuned perception.

Anonymous said...

Curious to see where you think Martin Puryear fits into all this.

Oly said...

I think he fits into the "great sculptor" category where race doesn't even play into it.

And this is exactly what I'm talking about in this piece.

But he's the exception to the rule, by far.

arebours said...

good post,far better than ,for example "Anonymous female artist"general rantings-you will go far.

Anonymous said...

olympia, you have touched on a theme that also raises my blood pressure, but for me, not so much the art or corporate world, but the political realm in the moment as I walked down 7th Avenue this evening, where the Kucinich people begged for signatures to get him on the ballot. A registered Dem. lady said he didn't "need" to be on the ballot, because he didn't "fit" the N.Y. dem. agenda, you see, so she wouldn't deign to donate her signature, signifying the political "glitterati" decide then who are worthy of consideration and what their role should be in order to qualify. This is life in the real America, not the ideal America. Keep your ideals, even when it means lambasting the glitterati and running the risk of offending those who can ruin you with their self appointed power!

Anonymous said...

I often wonder where we, as a society, are accomplishing by paying attention to this culturally constructed concept of "race". I feel that this concentration on "racial inequality" is a mere facade to hide the issue of economic inequalities. Art concerning racial concepts is definitely important, but how many times are inequalities derived from one source?