Jeff Koon's Michael Jackson and Bubbles
The economic expansions and contractions or the art market not withstanding, the art world functions like a zero-sum game; for every artist included in a museum biennial or a gallery's stable, there are many more artists who are not. If "winning" exhibition space and column inches were solely based on talent and creativity, then the proportion of black or women artists showing work would be closer to their proportions in the population at large, and there would be less need for compensations like the Studio Museum in Harlem or the Women's Building. Recent shows like Your Bright Future, Phantom Sightings, and WACK! tacitly affirm the privilege of white artists and male artists as they attempt to ameliorate them.
When we were in the editing process for the previously posted review of 9 Lives, one of the editors highlighted the word "overtly" next to "racist" and asked, "Isn't racism by definition overt?" My sense is that like most things, racism occurs on a continuum, from tying a rope around the neck of a black person and lynching them, to curating or collecting art predominantly made by white artists. The thread that weaves together both actions is the entitled sense that no explanation or reason need be given. I haven't talked to curators or collectors like Ali Subotnick or Eli Broad, but I expect that they would say that their choices were based on personal taste or some other factor, and the race or gender of the artist was not part of their selection criteria. I would not disagree, but add that their choices are symptomatic of an unquestioned position of privilege. In the long art historical view, their selections will seem as myopic as 19th century supporters of French academic painting.Glenn Ligon's Malcom X
Los Angeles is now a white minority city. For 9 Lives to reflect the ethnicities of the environment where the Hammer Museum is located (and still include Subotnick's personal choices), she would also need to include ten more artists that were Asian, Black, and Latino. As I said above, the exhibition of art is a zero-sum game. For the cake that is the limited amount of wall space available over a given period of time, it becomes necessary to slice off smaller pieces--or not serve--some white artists so as to avoid ghetto shows that attempt to compensate for the egregious inequality.Ken Gonzales-Day's Erased Lynching
Issues around race and art are not always black and white, and will become more complex as time marches on. Like the president of the United States, my mother is white. From my graduating class at CalArts, one in five of us were born to parents of different ethnicities. Hispanic surnames not withstanding, most of us are light-skinned, acculturated, and we enjoy access to supposedly racially neutral group shows, while at the same time being aware of the privilege of whiteness that compounds the privilege of obtaining a well-regarded MFA.Byron Kim's Threshold
Reading over Peggy McIntosh's White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack made me wonder if her list could be remade to expose some of the invisible systems of the art world:Kip Fulbeck's Part Asian, 100% Hapa
I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.
Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in women's studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, "having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?"
The Effects of White and/or Male Privilege in the Art WorldGilbert Buitron (My Father) Performing
- I can if I wish, arrange to be in the company of white artists, curators, and collectors most of the time.
- I can avoid spending time with people who wish to discuss my artwork in terms of race, gender, political, or economic issues, when I don’t see those as subjects that pertain to my work.
- If I should need to move to another large city, I can be pretty sure of finding another art community made up of people like me.
- I can be pretty sure that people I ask to visit my studio will be neutral or pleasant to me.
- I can go to an art opening in a sketchy neighborhood, pretty well assured that there will be a critical mass of other people like me to make me feel safer.
- I can turn through pages of art magazine or read reviews in the paper and expect to see artists of my race and gender widely represented.
- When I study art history, I am shown that people of my color and gender made it what it is.
- I can be pretty sure of having my race and gender represented in a group show.
- I can be casual about art made by a woman or person of color that uses gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity as a subject matter, dismissing it as overly political or didactic.
- I can go into an encyclopedic art museum and count on finding the art of my race and gender well represented, along with smaller galleries that separate our art from more “exotic” crafts.
- I can expect to find straightforward depictions of my race and gender in portrait galleries, made by artists that share the sitter’s race, and portrayed in a sympathetic way.
- If I’m the only male or white artist in a group exhibition, I can assume my inclusion is based on the merits of my work, and not as a ploy to be “politically correct”.
- When meeting with a collector or curator for the first time, I seldom think about their expectations about my race or gender.
- I can act out in socially inappropriate ways and have others attribute it to my “artistic temperament” rather than my race or gender.
- I can speak to audiences about my art and not be asked questions that begin, “As a white artist... ?”
- I am not referred to as a white artist, or a male artist.
- I am never asked to speak on behalf of all the artists of my racial group or to speak for all men.
- I can be pretty sure that if I’m introduced to a collector, I will be facing a person of my race or gender.
- If I make artwork that is critical, it is not seen as being motivated by my race or gender.
- I can choose to ignore shows at museums or exhibition spaces that exclusively feature the work of women, African-American, Latino, or Asian artists or I can disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.
- I can worry about racism or sexism without being seen as self-interested.
- I can create artwork that focuses on many topics, without wondering whether my art will be seen as a product of my race or gender.
- If I am not successful as an artist I can be sure that my race or gender is not the problem.
- I can imagine my art as a continuation of the historical timeline that stretches back to European cave paintings.
- Photographic film and lighting equipment are manufactured to best register light skin tones, so I needn’t make any special adjustments or color corrections to photograph other people of my race.