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“Black Male” (1994–95)

View of “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1994–95. From left: Robert Colescott, George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from American History, 1975; Gary Simmons, Step in the Arena (The Essentialist Trap), 1994; Byron Kim and Glenn Ligon, Rumble Young Man Rumble, 1993. Photo: Geoffrey Clements.

FOR ANY YOUNG CURATOR, putting together one’s first group exhibition is a complicated task. But when I became a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1991, the weight felt even greater because I sat with a lot of history: specifically, the history of the critique of museums in the late 1960s and early ’70s for institutional attitudes and exhibition making that excluded—or only very narrowly included—the work of black artists.

At first, I thought a revision of that history could be an effective way to uncover and really begin to move on from it. At other moments, though, I thought it best to avoid confronting that history head-on, by solely making exhibitions of the work of individual artists. But I also knew that a lot of what had brought about change in the art and museum world were thematic exhibitions of artists of color and women artists. Lowery

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