cincinatti

Titus Kaphar, The Vesper Project (detail), 2008–13, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Titus Kaphar

Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati

Titus Kaphar, The Vesper Project (detail), 2008–13, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

The story goes that, while looking at a portrait by Titus Kaphar hanging in the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, a man named Benjamin Vesper suffered a sudden psychotic break and attacked the painting. The man was hospitalized but later escaped, and was eventually found squatting in an abandoned nineteenth-century house that he insisted belonged to his family. The history goes that the ancestral Vespers were a well-to-do, mixed-race family living in Reconstruction-era Connecticut. Their light skin allowed them to “pass” as white until an unplanned pregnancy thwarted the proposed marriage between a Vesper daughter and the son of a wealthy white shipping magnate, ultimately exposing the Vesper family’s racial secret and hurtling them into financial and social ruin. Nineteenth-century America’s convoluted legislation banning interracial marriage often deferred to the so-called

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