PRINT May 1971



Political communications from various segments of the art community will be published in this section from time to time. Material is selected on the basis of its potential interest to the general art community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Artforum staff.

RECENT SOCIAL PRESSURE HAS focused on the ethnic exclusion practiced by American cultural institutions. As a result some of these institutions have attempted hasty redress in the form of ill-conceived exhibitions. For a major museum, in 1971, to attempt a definitive survey of the works of the African American artist in the United States is important and precedent setting.

Such an exhibition should then be a model of its kind, and try to deal with all the complex issues (social and esthetic) justly. Such an exhibition should also discover that the roots of America’s collective cultural experience are wider than they are deep, and that museum culture cannot simply continue to nurture a few varieties of European transplants. Furthermore, exhibitions that serve minority interests cannot be merely indignant reactions, but must be positive acts, which in good faith foster greater understanding and awareness in changing times.

As African Americans and artists involved personally and publicly as citizens and creative people, we feel that the quality of such a survey to a large extent depends on the intentions and integrity of the institution and its delegated curators.

We say that the Whitney Museum has anti-curated its survey which results in misrepresenting and discrediting the complex and varied culture and visual history of the African American. The museum thus acts as a falsifier of history and minimizes the value of our works and therefore ourselves. This exhibition has been organized and developed in the worst form of tokenism without any regard for our real qualities. The museum has initiated no in depth historical research of the collective quality of African American art. It has not done in depth personal biographies of African American artists. The level of administration and curatology of the museum is apparently of low caliber if we are to judge by the procedures used by the museum and its staff. It is a waste of time, energy and life to organize a large scale exhibition which negates a coherent viewing and analysis of the creative content, context, influence, and general value of the works of African American artists. We cannot endorse non-creative intentions and procedures; therefore, we refuse, withdraw and withhold our work from the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Survey of Black Art.

John Dowell
Sam Gilliam
Daniel Johnson
Joe Overstreet
Melvin Edwards
Richard Hunt
William T. Williams