An Anti-Racist Lens over a Background of Privilege

I’ve spent a lot of time in my adult life thinking about privilege, gender, race, power, and prejudice. I always felt “not racist” coming from a liberal middle-class white family and I had the good fortune to grow up in a place where not everybody looked like me. It didn’t quite feel like good fortune when I was in middle school and getting treated like an “other” for being white and not wearing all the fashions of the day. But I say wholeheartedly that it was good to have diversity in my neighborhood and schools.

I read Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” when I was high school aged (after we’d moved from Houston to more-segregated Arlington). I got the message to a degree but didn’t internalize the the term “white privilege” until after college, when I attended a Unitarian Universalist conference for young adults in 2003 (as of this writing, 12 years ago. It comes into play later in the post). At the conference, during Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression workshops when white privilege was brought up, my visceral internal reaction was “But I’m a woman! Sexism!” It weirdly helped my understanding of intersecting oppressions / privileges that during the same workshop, a white man who grew up poor had a similarly visceral, and much more vocal, reaction to the idea of having privilege. Without realizing it at the moment, I used my white privilege to get him to simmer down. Hearing that he had white-skin privilege (even if he’d been marginalized for being poor) from a woman of color made him react as though she was saying directly to him “you are a bad person for being white, you are oppressing me.” From me, someone also being “accused” of racism, it was easier for him to understand. (I realize now that him taking up a lot of the group’s time and energy with *his* discomfort is itself an often-unrealized-by-privileged-people symptom of privilege.)

Anyway, I’ve spent a lot more time in workshops and conferences about racism and privilege since then, and I wanted to write today to give some example of how I still do some racist shit (gratuitous use of scare quotes ahead):

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What’s next for the DMA?

This news is a few weeks old, and it was such a surprise I literally gasped out loud when I read about it on the day it broke: Dallas Museum of Art Director Max Anderson left September 28, to be Director of Grant Programs at the New Cities Foundation.

I was still in NY when Anderson took the helm at the DMA and I was pretty excited to hear it. He was at the Indianapolis Museum of Art during some very innovative times, and when I heard the news that he’d be going to Dallas I considered it a good get for an institution I admire. Then, suddenly one Monday morning in the fall of 2015, his online resume and New Cities quietly change to reflect that he is leaving the DMA, before the museum could even put out their own statement.

I noticed in recent months that there are quite a few positions coming open at the DMA and wondered what might be happening there. I was not the only one, as D Magazine brings up other shakeups that weren’t on my radar. Though you could say I got my earliest start there (volunteering to do inventory with the registrar’s office in 2001 while I was still an undergrad), I didn’t know a lot about how the place worked then, nor do I know much about how is structured now.

I wonder how things will go for Anderson. As I read more on his work history, I realize he wasn’t at Indianapolis much longer than he was at Dallas (5 and 4 years, respectively), and The Whitney–with a history of short-tenured directors and strong-armed board members–has essentially written him out of their history, though he was there for a pivotal 5 years as well.

This piece on Dallas Morning News is pretty standard except for the video at the end. W.O.W.
Watch at your own risk! (direct YouTube link) I couldn’t look away. On further consideration, it tells me quite a few things about him & the museum. First impression, he’s kinda pasty, I guess his bio headshot is a darn good one for making him seem less so? Or is it the bandana & hat combo? 2) Anderson is open to doing new/weird things and not so very worried about his image, good for him. More directors would do well to loosen up their public image a bit. 3) This is a very Dallas fundraising video. Name-checking high class brands that are sponsoring the event, fancy ladies with fancy shoes, trying to catch a wave of the cultural moment by doing an Uptown Funk parody, etc.

Other thoughts: I wonder how much time and money went into making that silly thing? It was either a fun break from the regular work of the museum, or really annoying, or more likely a bit of both. I’m imagining the process to that led to it. It wouldn’t have happened if there wasn’t money for it, I suspect a staff member came up with it, somebody said “that’s cool but we can’t do that, it’s too much money.” Then a donor/board member said, “That’s a fantastic idea, I’ll pay for it if Max will do it!”

Hometown Houston: More Research Needed (Part 1)

Headed off to H-town all on my own on a Sunday in September, which I was glad to do for so many reasons. All by myself! Going to my hometown to just mess around and reacquaint myself with it! After an uneventful (3-hour) drive, I went straight to the Rothko Chapel. Only to find it closes earlier than the Menil Collection, its parent organization. I was still pleased to catch sight of “Broken Obelisk” on the reflecting pool and saw many people enjoying the beautiful Menil campus on a less-than-scorchingly-hot day in Houston.

Quick snap of Barnett Newman’s “Broken Obelisk.”

Met up with a family friend and some of her smart and interesting friends and had a few beers in the village (Houston has one too!). After bonding with a few new friends I went “home,” where I was staying with another family friend, our dear friend and auntie Julie. I’d spent many hours at her house as a child and tween, as I’d been a regular babysitter for her two now-adult children. We started Monday slowly, catching up over strong coffee, then headed toward downtown so Julie could go to yoga and I could scope out the nearby museum district.

Options for art viewing were limited as many of the museums and art orgs are closed on Mondays. Fortunately one organization I was interested in, Lawndale Art Center does a Monday-Friday 10 to 5 (plus Sat!). I loved their space, didn’t love the installation in their large gallery, Specter Field a collaboration by Harold Mendez & Ronny Quevedo. In the smaller back gallery was an interesting show of small, square paintings by Camille Warmington. The compositions were from old family photos, and her technique really caught my eye. Carefully applied lines of acrylic on panel with color planes done in an almost topographical way made for a really interesting textural look, though the paint was applied thinly. On a read of the gallery brochure I learned that the images are ones of the artist’s family. Harking back to a time when her mother, who died when Warmington was young, was still alive and in the picture, as it were.

This is a shot I took, I especially liked the colors, the awkward framing of the photo, and the subject of a happy occasion:

Camille Warmington, “If They See What’s Broken Will They Love Me” 2015.

This image is from her website, and does a better job of showing the painting technique:

Camille Warmington, “Who Am I Called to Be” 2015. From the artist’s website.

(I’d like to see more of this type of work from her, it seems quite different from earlier more abstract painting, done with different techniques.)

Then I drove over to Rice University for the first time that day (2nd time will get it’s own post, I think) to see their James Turrell Skyspace. It’s got a lot going on and I barely saw the half, as it’s title is “Twilight Epiphany” and I was there during mid-day. It was beautiful and I look forward to seeing it at other times of day and in different seasons.

Later that day I went to Northwest Houston to visit the home and studio of JooYoung Choi. She’s a good friend of some good friends but I’d never had the opportunity to meet her before. I was fascinated that this New England-raised artist has chosen to make Houston her home and I enjoyed talking about our shared friends and her work and background. Some of the aesthetics and themes of her work reminded me of Shana Moulton, whom I’d met when I worked at Art in General and she was commissioned as part of the New Commissions program. All the bright, wild colors also reminded me of Ryan Trecartin’s installation in the New Museum’s Younger than Jesus show, though I’m not familiar enough with his work to say if any of the themes are similar.

I learned that Glasstire had recently been by to take some photos, resulting in this piece. I appreciate the nice documentation of her studio, as I didn’t take any notes or photos while I was there. Choi has a solo show opening in January at Anya Tish Gallery on Montrose. I hope to be there and I’ll let you know more about it when the time comes!

More on the Design Week talk I attended and a few more museum visits in a later post.

The Road to Basquiat

It started with a movie, “Basquiat,” a bio-pic starring Jeffrey Wright, that came out when I was in high school. The charisma and mystique of the real-life character of Jean-Michel Basquiat as portrayed by that actor plus a great supporting cast (Gary Oldman, David Bowie, among others) at that impressionable age, got me interested in the work of Basquiat. I didn’t really “get” the art itself at the time, it seemed so scribbly.

So for many years I have had a soft spot in my heart for Basquiat because of the film, but never further than that, no real understanding of the work, just the artist as character. Fast-forward to October 2014 when I rushed to the Whitney Museum to catch the last days of their last exhibition programmed for the Marcel Breuer building: Jeff Koons. I made it to the show, I saw celebrities in line, I bumped into a good friend, all in all it was a great visit to the museum.

One of the greatest things about it was finding the variety of permanent collection works on display on the top level, after many floors of Koons. The exhibition of collection gems was the perfect palate cleanser after the balloon & toy explosion on the lower floors. After a museum-full of these kinds of things:

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Kids enjoying art: say what you will about Koons, the young ‘uns loved it!

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Museum “selfie” with the most famous art basketball. Photo by Kara Meyer.

I came up and got some air at the top of the Bauhaus behemoth. After a couple of turns, there it was.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Hollywood Africans” 1983, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of Douglas S. Cramer. Thank you Douglas S. Cramer, thank you.

I had never seen “Hollywood Africans” before and it hit me, “This is why people love him!” I spent at least 20 minutes on this work alone. In retrospect, maybe I never really got Basquiat before because I’d never seen his work in person? But seeing this field of rich yellow and the strong striking contrasts of the cobalt blue and red and black messages was like nothing I’d seen. Fantastic.

Soon after that, I read a review in Hyperallergic  of an exhibition put on as part of Prospect.3 in New Orleans. Upon reading, I was seriously interested in seeing the show, Basquiat and the Bayou, curated by P.3 creative director Franklin Sirmans. Hmm, how to work this? I was living in NYC, that bi/triennial was in New Orleans. I had tried to talk my husband into going to see Prospect.1 in 2008 on a road trip to Texas but we skipped it at the last minute to spend more time with the family we were going to go visit.

And then we decided to drive to Texas again, in 2014 for Christmas and entering the new year of 2015. Okay! My plan-averse husband didn’t have any big ideas for the trip, just that we wanted to see our families, we wanted them to see our darling son, and that we wanted our dear dog to come along. Plans came together, and in all the discussions I inserted my desire (nay, my need) to go see that show, every. single. time. it came up.

Road trip entertainment tips: sock puppets. Dog is unimpressed.

We had an impressively easy journey down and some wonderful time with family and friends. Then it took us an inordinately long time to get ourselves to New Orleans once we set out for that leg of the trip. After many days trekking around Texas to see our people with no problems at all, the cruddy rainy weather and terrible traffic made a 5-hour drive into an 8 hour one. It started to seem like I was being punished for doing something just for us (OK, me) before we headed back to Brooklyn. We finally made it and had a late dinner at our hotel, which was literally around the corner from the museum that housed the show, the Ogden. That was a stroke of genius; I’d considered booking a different hotel, closer to other shows and cool things in NOLA, but went with the Modern and I’m so very glad.

I had hoped to get to the museum bright and early, but a 40-year-old husband and a 16-month-old child make their own time. Once we got there it was as I had hoped, phenomenal.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Zydeco” (1984). Installation view in “Basquiat and the Bayou” at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans. Photo by John d’Addario.

On the wall of the hallway leading to the exhibition was an extensive timeline of Basquiat’s life. In those moments of reading about Basquiat’s short time in the world it was like the grief of his death was finally (or starting?) to sink in. God, what might his work have been like in his later years? And it was affecting me in a different way too, as I lost my youngest brother to a heroin overdose less than a year before. And so the reality of the universe losing a bright star due to drugs really, truly hit home.

The show was tight and very carefully lit, an excellent touch. It was a quiet Sunday when we went in, but more and more people arrived as I cruised the gallery a second and third time. There was also an exhibition of Herbert Singleton’s wood carvings in an adjacent gallery, a very nice compliment.

I was in such a daze the rest of our visit, high on art. We saw a lot of great stuff at that little museum, an extensive local collection of “outsider” art, a permanent collection galleries with both new and familiar names, and I snapped up the last catalogue of the show on the shelf (the clerk assured me there were more in storage). We didn’t end up seeing any other shows in P.3, even at the Contemporary Art Center across the street, but I was still satisfied. That one show, those 9 paintings plus the pleasant Ogden, made that trek to New Orleans worthwhile to me. Big thanks to John d’Addario for the review that led me there.

We did also get to go to the build shed of Krewe du Vieux (links to image search, possibly NSFW) with floats in various stages of construction. I love New Orleans!

Bonus shot: Baby’s first beignets. 

Permanent Collection Re-Hang at the Fort Worth Modern

Visiting the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth was a pleasant rediscovery, since I’d been in New York for the majority of the time the Modern has been open in its Tadao Ando-designed building in museum district. Full disclosure: I may be biased, I have such warm fuzzy feelings for that area of Cowtown. I went to high school in nearby Arlington and spent many hours on the Kimbell Museum’s lawn in high school and during college breaks. I only went to the Modern once before they opened the Ando building in 2002, and didn’t have the faintest idea how strong their collection was.  

In a new installation of permanent collection works the curators have given us fresh eyes to see the undersung collection. In the smaller of the second floor gallery spaces, usually reserved for director-favorite Sean Scully, is a Robert Motherwell survey  of 70+ works, all from the museum’s extensive holdings. For some reason I did not have it in my head that Motherwell was making his Elegies to the Spanish Republic until as late as 1990. Schooled! That is one long-running series, as he began making them in 1948.

Not an Elegy: Robert Motherwell, “The Garden Window (Open No. 110),” 1969. 

The first floor galleries give a fresh look at items in the collection that have spent some time in storage, as over half of the 60+ pieces currently on view were not in the previous permanent collection installation. Also new is that the works are not arranged strictly by chronology, but in a more narrative theme of movements. Beginning with the figurative, led by heavy hitters like Picasso, Francis Bacon, and Milton Avery,  and followed by an entire gallery of Philip Guston, the viewer is led through abstract works, pop art, then into the minimal. Some of my favorites included Ben Shahn’s “Allegory,” several Morris Louis canvases that do not disappoint, and “Male Head IV” by new-to-me artist David Bates.  

The museum has a strong showing of permanent installations, most notably works with spaces designed around them: Martin Puryear’s ever-so-tall “Ladder for Booker T. Washington,” and Anselm Kiefer’s “Book with Wings” in its unusual round gallery. I am as impressed by that round gallery as I am by the artwork itself (which is to say, I don’t love the sculpture but I do love the oval-shaped home). Two other permanent highlights of a visit to the museum are Richard Serra’s “Vortex” in the front of the building and Roxy Paine’s “Conjoined” on the back lawn. Visible from many angles within the museum and cafe, “Conjoined” gleams silver in the sunlight, set off by the green lawn across the reflecting pool, a welcome bit of shiny irregularity against the careful vertical and horizontal lines of the building itself. Interesting note: when looking up the Paine trees on The Modern’s site and in a Google image search, I found that I disliked many of the images. Nearly all are taken from the vantage point of the back wall of the sculpture garden, with the building in the background. Truly, the building is lovely, but those shots don’t do the sculpture much justice. A fresh reminder of how important it is to see art in person whenever possible, eh?

Straight lines and reflections: #museumselfie with a Jenny Holzer in the background.

Once I’ve seen the full exhibition of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic (through Jan. 10, 2016) I’ll share here, and there is a Frank Stella retrospective in the pipes, to open April 17, 2016.

Greetings Earthlings! Transitions and Impressions

Leaving Brooklyn, oy vei!

After 10 years in Brooklyn, NY, I have returned to my home state of Texas. I left Dallas in 2005 to go to graduate school full-time in Visual Arts Administration at New York University. After completing the program in 2 years, my husband Jonah and I stayed on in our adopted city of Brooklyn for 8 more. We returned in August 2015 and are currently based in Waco.

Two things I miss about NYC so far: street art and fall color

We had a blast in “The City” and we’re making the most of our time in Texas while we’re relatively unscheduled. I’ve visited lots of museums and art organizations in our short time back, it’s fun to be a tourist in a place you already know. Fort Worth has long been a favorite because of the wonderful Kimbell and I had a chance to visit the Fort Worth Modern’s new permanent collection re-installation (more on that in a later post), and to have a tiny peek into their since-opened Kehinde Wiley survey as it was being installed. Rumor has it that the artist thinks it looks better in Fort Worth than at its first stop at the Brooklyn Museum. (Don’t worry BK, you’re still one of my favorites!)

Speaking of the Brooklyn Museum, one of their current shows is an exhibition we saw during its first stop at Austin’s BlantonImpressionism and the Caribbean: Fransisco Oller and His Transatlantic World (through Jan. 3, 2016). Absolutely worth your time if you are able to see it. There are quite a few lovely Oller paintings, a few pieces by familiar masters (Cézanne, Monet, Church, Homer)*, and several of the contextual pieces by less-known contemporaries were what really took my breath away.

My favorite of the Oller works in the exhibition, very Courbet.

A nice surprise from our August visit to the Blanton was Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm (through Nov. 15, 2015). Exploring the earliest, darkest Grimm fairy tales, the artist envisions key scenes from both well-known and unknown Grimm stories in vibrant, sometimes disturbing drawings. The exhibition is a quickie-but-goodie, and the catalogue is high on my Christmas list.

* Big props to the museums that own these artworks for having their info available online! My beloved Brooklyn Museum, and the Wadsworth Athenaeum