Huey Copeland

  • RED, BLACK, AND BLUE: THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE AND THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN

    NEARLY ONE YEAR AGO TODAY, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) opened to popular excitement and critical acclaim, joining the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), inaugurated in 2004, as one of the only racially specific institutions on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Both museums, especially when considered against the dearth of official engagements with black and Native histories, offer vivid testimony to the artifacts, cultures, and struggles of the peoples on which they focus. Yet their presence also raises vital questions about such national projects—Who, ultimately, are they “for,” given what they are museums “of”?—in an era that has witnessed the rise of Black Lives Matter in response to police violence, and ongoing contestations over Native sovereignty and environmental justice at Standing Rock. To take stock of these tensions, art historian and Artforum contributing editor HUEY COPELAND joined theorist FRANK B. WILDERSON III—author of the influential Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms (2010)—in a candid conversation about the structural logics shaping both museums, in which these scholars at once echo and extend their long-standing dialogue about radical approaches to contemporary culture.

    HUEY COPELAND: These two museums are prominently placed on the Mall, among the other museums representing national culture, and much has been made of the “inclusiveness” of those gestures. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, for starters, enacts a particular spatial intervention, whose semiotics aren’t subtle: As many have noted, it’s a big, beautiful brown thing interrupting a series of white-marble buildings. The National Museum of the American Indian, on the other hand, doesn’t offer much chromatic contrast. But the undulating lines, unlike the rectilinear structures

  • “Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer”

    For more than sixty years, the Los Angeles–based artist Betye Saar has steadily produced mixed-media works that recombine diverse cultural forms, spiritual traditions, and everyday icons. Whether Saar is invoking diasporic ritual practices in her talismanic Black Girl’s Window, 1969, or formally undoing the logic of racist kitsch through her ongoing work with mammy figures and figurines, her practice occupies a vital place within histories of assemblage. “Uneasy Dancer,” the artist’s first retrospective in Italy, will feature more than ninety of her assemblages,

  • COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS: A ROUNDTABLE

    TO MAP THE SHIFTING COORDINATES OF IDENTITY—and difference—in culture today, critic and art historian HUEY COPELAND moderates a roundtable with artist EMILY ROYSDON; film theorist KARA KEELING; Artforum’s editor, MICHELLE KUO; and some of the foremost thinkers on globalism, postcolonialism, and art: scholars DIPESH CHAKRABARTY, DAVID JOSELIT, and KOBENA MERCER.

    HUEY COPELAND: Is identity politics back? Did it ever truly go away? In either case, what does the term mean now and how do we think about the ways in which new understandings of identity are arising?

    One thing that characterizes this particular moment, I think, is the critical mass of artists and writers and critics and curators and viewers in and beyond the art world who are coming from positions that had previously been excluded, oppressed, or unacknowledged. But there is also, more broadly, a much greater awareness that’s been brought about by multiculturalism and identity politics, in all

  • Noah Purifoy

    “JUNK DADA,” the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s recent survey of the work of Noah Purifoy, could hardly have felt timelier—or more belated. On the one hand, the elegantly installed show, curated by Franklin Sirmans and Yael Lipschutz, has arrived during a moment of renewed art-world attention to African American elder statesmen, from Ed Clark to Stanley Whitney; it also contributes to recent efforts to rethink the racial politics of assemblage in the context of the Southern California scene, as emblematized by Kellie Jones’s important 2011 exhibition “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los

  • “Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada”

    This exhibition reevaluates the vital yet understudied practice of Noah Purifoy (1917–2004), an artist and activist whose melding of collage and community outreach would influence numerous succeeding practitioners. Born in Alabama, Purifoy moved in 1950 to Southern California, where he would execute his signature 1966 exhibition “66 Signs of Neon,” whose works Purifoy and others crafted from the debris of the previous year’s Watts rebellion, and the sprawling constellation of assemblages (1989–2004) that comprise his Joshua Tree Outdoor Desert Art

  • CLOSE-UP: SPECTERS OF HISTORY

    HAVE WE ALL BEEN SLEEPING on Carrie Mae Weems? The question might sound counterintuitive, considering the esteem with which the artist has been held since her emergence in the 1980s—if not altogether off the mark, given the successes she has enjoyed in the past year. Highlights include a MacArthur “genius” award, a magisterial display of her “Museum” series at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the star-studded “Past Tense/Future Perfect” conference organized around her work at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the last stop of “Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and

  • DARK MIRRORS: THEASTER GATES AND EBONY

    SINCE THE MIDDLE OF THE LAST CENTURY, the magazines produced by the Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Company—most famously Ebony and Jet—have visualized models of black aspiration and bourgeois achievement. At the same time, they have directed their readers’ sights toward texts and photographs of transformative import, from Larry Neal’s writings on black aesthetics to images of the brutalized body of Emmett Till. These periodicals, along with the company’s cosmetics and hair-care lines, provided sources of employment as well as safe havens for black cultural producers forced to navigate

  • “Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art”

    From grand masters like Benjamin Patterson to rising stars such as Xaviera Simmons—the show explores the ways in which artists of color have consistently engaged the performative field since the 1960s.

    Over the past decade, performance and its histories have become increasingly central to art-related discourses of various stripes, though few have afforded black practitioners a sustained critical engagement, let alone an officially sanctioned platform. This ambitious multimedia exhibition, an expansive survey devoted to black performance art, aims to do just that. Including roughly eighty works by an intergenerational roster of thirty-six participants—from grand masters like Benjamin Patterson to rising stars such as Xaviera Simmons—the show explores

  • Rashid Johnson

    IN THE PAST YEAR, Rashid Johnson has received both high honors and the occasional low blow from various quarters of the art world for his wildly referential, formally promiscuous, and increasingly slick conceptual practice. His current exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, “Message to Our Folks”—titled after the 1969 Art Ensemble of Chicago album and curated by Julie Rodrigues Widholm—thus offers a prime opportunity to consider the contradictory logics undergirding the artworks that have led one critic to dismiss his practice as symptomatic of a generational penchant for “

  • Alicia Hall Moran

    AS THE ARREST OF HENRY LOUIS GATES JR. on the steps of his own house made clear, the dynamics of racialized subjection are particularly vexed in ivory-tower towns like Cambridge, Massachusetts. On the one hand, black bodies are continuously surveyed and assessed as either “hood,” “Harvard,” or “homeless”; on the other, the city and its environs play host to a range of the most visible African-diasporic cultural institutions and practitioners anywhere. Yet there are, of course, much-needed escapes from these specular extremes of life lived black.

    It was just this kind of phenomenal experience—of

  • OPENINGS: LESLIE HEWITT

    DURING THE PAST DECADE, signs of black dissent have appeared with increasing frequency in American artistic production—a phenomenon that is part and parcel of a larger turn among contemporary artists toward imagery of the 1960s and ’70s. Consider just a few of the more compelling examples: In a 2001 drawing, Sam Durant meticulously rendered a photograph depicting a dark hand stacking copies of Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice; as part of an ongoing performative intervention, in 2005 Sharon Hayes walked through New York clutching her own version of the I AM A MAN poster famously held up by

  • Robert Colescott

    WHEN THE ARTIST ROBERT COLESCOTT passed away this June in Tucson, where he had lived since 1985, he left behind a body of work that troubles many of the antinomies haunting Western art and its institutions. Appraised as both beautiful and ugly, racist and radical, hilarious and tragic, cutting and cathartic, Colescott’s paintings wed such contrary terms in order to instigate a “one-two punch”: As he put it in a 1996 video of that name, the vibrancy of his works’ colors and compositions seduced from afar, eliciting an “Oh wow!” from viewers who might then mutter “Oh shit!” when confronted up

  • FIGURES AND GROUNDS: THE ART OF BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS

    By turns extravagant and direct, the portraits Barkley L. Hendricks has made of his African-American friends and neighbors since the late 1960s variously recall the indolent nudes of Philip Pearlstein and the deadpan chic of David Hockney. But in these canvases and in other works—such as his series of landscapes freighted with Barbizon-school scrupulousness—the artist has sought modes of representing that go beyond the pursuit of likeness, gesturing toward abstraction, anamorphosis, and anachronism. On the occasion of a major traveling exhibition centered on these two bodies of work (organized by Trevor Schoonmaker for the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, recently shown at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, and appearing this summer at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in California), Artforum asked art historian HUEY COPELAND to engage Hendricks’s alternate realisms.

    THE WHITE-SUITED BLACK SUBJECTS are rendered with varying degrees of realism: There is the chalky brown man at left, who possesses all the charm of a department store mannequin; the androgynous youth at right, with unfurled scarf and ghostly tinted glasses; and, of course, the woman at the center of the work, whose adjacent nude double seems to both teasingly recede into and forcefully protrude beyond the group. Barkley L. Hendricks executed this large-scale canvas, What’s Going On, in 1974, and it is perhaps the most striking of what the artist calls his “limited palette” works, with its

  • “Black Is, Black Ain’t”

    AS EVER IN CHICAGO, there is no dearth of tragedy where racial politics are concerned: ongoing revelations about city hall’s involvement in covering up police torture of black suspects; a recent 18 percent increase in the homicide rate that disproportionately affects black youth; and the threat of further black disenfranchisement for the sake of the 2016 Olympic bid. For the past several months, however, conversations about race in the Black Metropolis, as elsewhere in the United States, have turned to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. He too is a marked man, at once targeted for