Richard Phelan : African-American Art and the Question of Visibility

jeudi 14 octobre 2021

15h00 - 16h30

PROGRAMME D: D3: “Visibility”
Champ “arts plastiques”

Richard Phelan : African-American Art and the Question of Visibility
Jeudi 14 octobre, 15-16h30
Maison de la Recherche, salle 2.44

Visual art by African Americans is more and more visible— it can be seen in dedicated exhibitions like Soul of a Nation (Tate Modern 2017, Brooklyn Museum 2019), in surveys like the 2019 rehang at the New York MoMA, in art collections (the Pinault Collection which opened in Paris earlier this year gives pride of place to David Hammons and Kerry James Marshall) and on the international art market (a recent painting by Marshall sold at the Basel art fair for $5m). One of the results of this increased visibility is an increased creativity; one could speak, as does scholar Darby English, of a new Black Renaissance.
The last 20 years of this development require a full historiography. Already we can examine the recently updated accounts of the situation of African American art in the 1960s and 1970s since these accounts provide useful parameters for understanding the situation today. How did the forces of ‘invisibilization’ work for instance in 1969 when the Metropolitan Museum of New York curated Harlem on my Mind without any black artists? What were the ensuing strategies of ‘visibilization’? who were its agents? and what are their legacies?
A particularly interesting question is how the political question of visibility is thematized in the artwork itself. How do artists like Kerry James Marshall literally play with seeing African Americans on canvas and what happens when African American faces look back from the walls of museums like the MoMA, the Met, the LACMA, the BFA… and the Bourse de Commerce. (“Quel est le commerce des regards?” you might ask).

Image: Kerry James Marshall, Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of his Former Self, 1980.