Petition Calls Out NYT Art Critic for Racist and Sexist Framing

November 29, 2012   ·   0 Comments

Source: Colorlines

By Jorge Rivas:

new petition is demanding the New York Times “acknowledge and address” a Times art critic’s recent reviews that have compared women and black artists to white male artists, “only to find them lacking.”

The petition includes an open letter that calls out two articles by Times art critic Ken Johnson: his October 25th review of “Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960-1980″ at MoMA PS1 and his November 8th preview of “The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World” at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. According to the open letter, both articles use “irresponsible generalities.”

The petition has “no sponsor information” available but it appears it was created by someone connected to artists and the art world. The petition’s early supporters includes notable names.

Artists Glenn Ligon and Coco Fusco confirmed to ARTINFO they signed the petition this morning. Other (currently unconfirmed) signatures on the petition include artists Kara Walker, Paul Ramirez Jonas, Janine Antoni, Louise Lawler, Julie Mehretu and Martha Rosler as well as art historians Rosalyn Deutsche, Miwon Kw0n, and Robert Storr.

An excerpt of the open letter is below:

Open Letter to The New York Times:

The recent writing of art critic Ken Johnson troubles us. His October 25th review of “Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960-1980” and his November 8th preview of “The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World,” present ill-informed arguments. Using irresponsible generalities, Johnson compares women and African-American artists to white male artists, only to find them lacking.

In his review of “Now Dig This!” Mr. Johnson starts with the claim that “Black artists didn’t invent assemblage.” Instead, he states that black artists appropriated the form from white artists who developed it. Both these statements attack a straw man; no historian, artist or curator has ever made a claim that anyone, black or white, “invented” assemblage. In fact, assemblage has roots in many cultures and it is well documented that European and American Modernist artists borrowed heavily from African art in their use of the form.

Mr. Johnson organizes his review around an oversimplified opposition between the apolitical, “deracinated” work of white artists and the political, “parochial” work of black artists. He claims that white European artists, such as those of Cubism, Surrealism and Dada, who “were as free as anyone could be,” were only playfully messing around with aesthetic conventions. The aesthetic play of assemblage “took on a different complexion,” to use Mr. Johnson’s unfortunate turn of phrase, when black artists politicized the form. But he ignores both the extreme political unrest in Europe at the time and the ideological motivations of these artistic movements. What was DaDa if not a response to the social psychosis and industrialized mass murder of WWI?

The open letter goes on to point out Johnson also compares women to white male artists, and again, “only to find them lacking.”

Mr. Johnson frames “The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World” in similar terms: “The day that any woman earns the big bucks that men like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst rake in is still a long way off. Sexism is probably a good enough explanation for inequities in the market. But might it also have something to do with the nature of the art that women tend to make?” His text brackets the real impact of sexism and leaves us only with an insinuating question. There is no explanation of “the nature of the art that women tend to make.” The reader is only left with the sense that women’s art is a problem, somehow.

Johnson, 59, covers gallery and museum exhibits for The New York Times. He’s also a critic-in-residence at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

The petition had 967 signatures at the time this story was published.



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