Huey Copeland

  • View of “Nick Cave: Forothermore,” 2022–23, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Photo: Nathan Keay.


    Huey Copeland is BFC Presidential Associate Professor of Modern Art and Black Study at the University of Pennsylvania and a contributing editor of Artforum. His new book, the anthology Black Modernisms in the Transatlantic World, coedited with Steven Nelson, dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, will be published next year by the National Gallery of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.


    Hartman’s 1997 debut launched a thousand Afro-Pessimist ships and provided fertile ground for new flights of Black

  • View of “A Site of Struggle: American Art Against Anti-Black Violence,” 2022, Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL. From left: Alison Saar, Strange Fruit, 1995; Pat Ward Williams, Accused/Blowtorch/Padlock, 1986. Photo: Clare Britt.


    THIS PAST SUMMER, denizens of and visitors to Chicago had the opportunity to engage with three extraordinary modes of Black feminist curatorial practice that spanned the breadth of the city. At the South Side Community Art Center, zakkiyyah najeebah dumas o’neal and LaMar R. Gayles Jr. mounted the revelatory “Emergence: Intersections at the Center”; at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Naomi Beckwith, deputy director and chief curator of New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, unveiled her superb retrospective of queer Chicago artist Nick Cave, “Forothermore”; and at Northwestern University’s

  • View of “Promise, Witness, Remembrance,” 2021, Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY. Center: Amy Sherald, Breonna Taylor, 2020. Photo: Bill Roughen.


    Over the past year, American museums have been forced to consider how they might address anti-Black violence and center marginalized voices, especially when their collecting, exhibitionary, and outreach practices have historically abetted rather than challenged the social reproduction of white supremacy. While any number of institutions have made statements or proposed changes, the exhibition “Promise, Witness, Remembrance” at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky—organized in honor of Breonna Taylor, whose murder at the hands of Louisville police on March 13, 2020 eventually spurred

  • Arnold J. Kemp, Mr. Kemp: Yellowing, Drying, Scorching, 2020, vinyl chair, vinyl seat cushions, thermometer, forty hardcover and paperback copies of Arnold Kemp’s 1972 Eat of Me: I Am the Savior, 31 × 41 × 32".

    1000 Words: Arnold J. Kemp

    IN ANTICIPATION of his solo exhibition “False Hydras” at JOAN in Los Angeles, Arnold J. Kemp sat down with me in Chicago to continue our dialogue on the means and meanings of Black queer and feminist critical practice in the age of the internet. A teacher, writer, curator, and artist, Kemp occupies multiple cultural roles, which are paralleled by the range of materials and media—drawing, painting, performance, poetry, photography, installation, sculpture—that have both intellectually informed and physically shaped his practice over the past thirty years. Yet as our conversation made clear,


    THROUGHOUT THIS YEAR, the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania is presenting “Colored People Time,” an exhibition comprising three chapters: “Mundane Futures” (February 1–March 31), “Quotidian Pasts” (April 26–August 11), and “Banal Presents” (September 13–December 22). Conceived and organized by assistant curator MEG ONLI, the show addresses how white supremacy suffuses the everyday, perpetually reinscribing the history of racial violence in the present so as to hold liberation in abeyance. Here, Onli speaks with Artforum contributing editor HUEY COPELAND about the

  • Slave shackles, pre-1860. From “Slavery and Freedom,” 2016–26, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC.


    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, Search for Lost Future, 2015, mixed media, 33 1/8 × 14 1/8 × 16 1/8".

    “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,

  • Still from Andrea Geyer’s Comrades of Time (Elsa), 2010–11, HD video, color, sound, 8 minutes 39 seconds. One of seven HD videos from the installation Comrades of Time, 2010–11.


    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, Ode to Frank Gehry, 2000, mixed media. Installation view, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2015. © Noah Purifoy Foundation.

    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, Hanging Tree, 1990, mixed media, 52 × 40". © Noah Purifoy Foundation.

    “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


    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 Video,”

  • Theaster Gates, Civil Tapestry, Flag Series, 2012, decommissioned fire hoses, wood, 66 x 84 x 4 1/2". From the series “Civil Tapestries,” 2011–.


    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