Identity Aesthetics

CAN ELEGANCE COEXIST WITH CRITIQUE? Aesthetics with politics? Material and formal intensiveness with sociocultural inquiry? My own answer would be a resounding “Yes.” But much contemporary art seems to answer “No.” Indeed, some recent shows appear to be wedded to the idea that intensive aesthetic labor undermines political intent—especially in work by minorities. The Brooklyn Museum’s recent exhibition “Global Feminisms,” for example, foregrounded contemporary work by women artists of all colors, ethnicities, and nationalities that emphasizes the reductive, the dystopian, the aesthetically indifferent, and/or the simply ugly.

I was reminded of these questions when I saw Lorna Simpson’s twenty-year survey this past spring at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Simpson, an African-American woman, was not included in “Global Feminisms,” but much of her work is located at the

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