How Art Becomes History: Essays on Art, Society, and Culture in Post-New Deal America

By Maurice Berger | Go to book overview

VIII
Are Art Museums Racist?

WALKING THROUGH a group exhibition installed in the fall of 1989 at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, I heard the distinctive, albeit muffled, voice of the late Malcolm X. The sounds emanated from a multimedia installation by the African-American artist David Hammons. The installation itself, titled A Fan [56], was almost surreal in its juxtapositions: a funereal bouquet, its flowers dried and decayed, stood next to an antique table on which the head of a white, female mannequin "watched" one of Malcolm X's early television interviews. The work was powerful, challenging, even painful. Rather than advocating conciliation (as he would later), in this video interview Malcolm X spoke of his distrust of white people and of the inherent foolishness of integration. An understandable sense of frustration echoed in his voice when he said, "There is nothing that the white man will do to bring about true, sincere citizenship or civil rights recognition for black people in this country. . . . They will always talk but they won't practice it."

These words offered an appropriate postscript to my museum experience. The exhibition in question was "Strange

-143-

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How Art Becomes History: Essays on Art, Society, and Culture in Post-New Deal America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Illustrations vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction: How Art Becomes History xiii
  • Notes xxii
  • 1 - FSA: The Illiterate Eye 1
  • II - Of Cold Wars and Curators: the Case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg 23
  • III - World Fairness 46
  • V - Race and Representation 78
  • VI - Black Skin, White Masks: Adrian Piper and the Politics of Viewing 93
  • VII - Culture Stories/American Myths 114
  • VIII - Are Art Museums Racist? 143
  • Notes 166
  • Index 195
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