Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities

By Darnell Hunt; Ana-Christina Ramón | Go to book overview

Chapter 10
Before and After Watts
Black Art in Los Angeles

Paul Von Blum

In 1929, the California Art Club hosted the first recorded black art show in Los Angeles. The exhibit was brought to California from Chicago and did not feature local artists. Only at the request of the club were three local black artists included. Unfortunately, the exhibit was not warmly received by Arthur Miller, the leading art critic of the period for the Los Angeles Times, who lambasted the exhibit for not possessing enough “Negro naivete” and “Negro warmth.” He suggested that white artists would do a better job re-creating black images than the “Cultivated Negro working in a purely European tradition.”1 Over the years, the demeaning and racist tone of the review, although presented in much more subtle ways later in the century, would become typical of the dominant white art community in Los Angeles. Mainstream Los Angeles art critics would either not review exhibits of local black artists at all (while still reviewing black artists from other regions), or their reviews would be filtered through a critical analysis of black art using the lens of elitist standards of artistic quality. This European-focused perspective usually raised questions about the competency of black artists and the validity of black art as a legitimate art form.2

In this chapter, I review different historical periods in the evolution of the black arts movement in Los Angeles, paying particular attention to developments following the 1965 Watts Riots. This era saw a shift in tone not only of the artistic themes presented, but in the way in which black artists and art administrators, organized, presented, and created venues for black art. Black Los Angeles artists have engaged and challenged audiences of all backgrounds to reflect on the social issues confronting Black

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