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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 close with the visceral matters that were his signature subjects.

Perhaps no work more famously exemplifies this tactic than Colescott’s oft-reproduced George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook, 1975. As with many of the paintings for which he remains best

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