In the Spirit of Thanksgiving:
The times, they are a’changing?
We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life.
— Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address
Fall is rushing to a close, and Thanksgiving only days away. So much has happened in my universe and the world at large, that apologies are in order for the delay in this newsletter. However, such delay gives me time to wish colleagues, clients and friends, and their loved ones, the bounty of thanksgiving. Considered a quintessential yet complex American holiday, Thanksgiving signifies gratitude. Coincidentally, recent conjuring up of memories of the past, and my reflections on the significance of various events for the future, provide me with a sense of gratitude.
I was interviewed recently by the College Art Association, and asked to reflect on my role during ten years as the CAA outside counsel. The interview is the focus of this Art Lawyer’s Diary. Importantly, CAA has provided access to the two-volume issue on censorship edited by myself and Professor Robert Storr. Censorship I and Censorship II conjure up the nineties, and the culture wars which dominated our lives at that time. The table of contents evokes so many memories for me of colleagues, friends, and clients, some of whom, like Marlon Riggs and Vito Acconci, are no longer with us. What joy that others like Faith Ringgold have prevailed, and that she has now claimed the recognition she deserves, including her 2019 solo exhibition at the Serpentine, and for her philanthropy through the Anyone Can Fly Foundation, now almost twenty years old. The MoMA’s long-awaited reopening continues the expansion of narratives of contemporary art to include artists of color and their artistic responses to the canon, which began in part with “Soul of a Nation,” first at the Tate and then at the Brooklyn Museum, and continues with the exhibition of Faith Ringgold’s American People Series #20: Die, MoMA’s only large-scale work by Ringgold acquired in 2016, alongside and in dialogue with Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon.
Hans Haacke, whose shopping cart graces the front cover of Censorship I, currently has a major retrospective “All Connected” at the New Museum, and Dread Scott, who was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago at the time of the publication of Censorship I, and whose work was discussed in my article based on his use of the American flag, and ensuing controversy with the Chicago Police Department, has created and completed this November a six-year project on the Slave Rebellion of 1811.
The culture wars provided what was then a relatively small art world with a sense of community, and gathered us together to resist forces that sought to quell voices unacceptable to the dominant political structure, or otherwise simply invisible. Censorship I and II reflect on and connect the history of past struggle to the contemporary efforts in the nineties to change the dominant political structure, and to give voice and visibility to those not seen or heard.
“I represented CAA and was active in what we now call the Culture Wars, when Jesse Helms tried to ban the publication of Robert Mapplethorpe’s images. This was in 1989, and continued through the 1990s. They were extremely active times.
I’m most proud of the two-volume issue I did on censorship with Robert Storr for Art Journal. I dedicated my statement to Justice Brennan of the Supreme Court [and] Robert Storr made his editor’s statement a full reprint of Mapplethorpe’s X Portfolio.”
Meet CAA member Barbara Hoffman, founder and principal of The Hoffman Law Firm and a pioneer in the field of art law who served as CAA’s pro bono legal counsel for ten years.
The art world of today is considerably different than that of the nineties in so many respects. CAA was just beginning to address issues of diversity, and to attack exclusion. My clients, the Guerrilla Girls, protested the lack of women in museums through collaboratively authored and clandestinely posted fact-based humorous posters, and through organizing demonstrations. Re-reading the journals, the spirit of resistance embodied in the articles, and the sense of community and the role of the artist in structuring society, is apparent. It is beyond the scope of this newsletter to statistically evaluate the evolution of inclusion of previously-excluded voices in the art world, which for many has devolved into a world where art is only an investment vehicle, rather than at the time of the 9th Street Gallery, when artists wondered what was wrong if their work sold.
Yet the times they are a’changing, at least with resistance and longevity. Readers will recall that my first newsletter discussed “Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today/ Le Modèle noir, de Géricault à Matisse,” and Denise Murrell’s heroic efforts to find a venue for the exhibition. The New York Times announced last week that Dr. Murrell has now been appointed as an associate curator of 19th and 20th century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Portrait of Denise Murrell taken by Amsterdam-based photographer Carla van de Puttelaar, and displayed in the exhibition “Artfully Dressed: Women in the Art World,” at TEFAF New York 2019.
Her appointment is noteworthy. Not only because, as the Times reported, “the Met has been historically lacking in curators of color,” but also because Dr. Murrell’s research interests and scholarship explore other narratives in western art history which have been overlooked or invisible. While recent scholarship of the past thirty years has recognized in part the debt owed by western artists such as Picasso to the contemporary African art of the time, it is only with Dr. Murrell and within the past year that the contributions of African American artists and other minority groups within Europe and the US to nineteenth and twentieth century art have been recognized to such a degree.
Just as Dr. Murrell saw individuals, and wondered about the identity and significance of the person of color who occupied 50% of Manet’s Olympia, so too is it appropriate on Thanksgiving to challenge traditional notions held about the feast in 1621, and expand our understanding of gratitude.
“Most texts and supplementary materials portray Native Americans at the gathering as supporting players. They are depicted as nameless, faceless, generic “Indians” who merely shared a meal with the intrepid Pilgrims… The Indians in attendance, the Wampanoag, played a lead role in this historic encounter, and they had been essential to the survival of the colonists during the newcomers’ first year. The Wampanoag were a people with a sophisticated society who had occupied the region for thousands of years. They had their own government, their own religious and philosophical beliefs, their own knowledge system, and their own culture. They were also a people for whom giving thanks was a part of daily life.”
I find cause to be grateful in the recent news that my long-time friend Howardena Pindell is one of three professors at Stony Brook University’s College of Arts and Sciences to have been honored with the rank of Distinguished Professor by the State University of New York Board of Trustees.
The announcement is below:
Howardena Pindell, Department of Art, brings a powerful voice for social justice to her pioneering conceptual art. She utilizes gridded, serialized imagery along with surface texture throughout her work, powerfully addressing social issues of homelessness, AIDS, war, genocide, sexism, xenophobia, and apartheid. In 1967 Dr. Pindell was the first appointed female African-American curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). In 1972 she co-founded the A.I.R. Gallery, the first artist-directed gallery for female artists in the United States. Dr. Pindell’s work has been shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, MOMA, the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and the Whitney Museum of Art. She has received the top awards in her field: a Guggenheim Fellowship (1987), the Most Distinguished Body of Work or Performance Award from the College Art Association (1990), the Distinguished Contribution to the Profession Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art (1996), and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. She is considered to be one of the most significant artists of the second half of the 20th century.
The Distinguished Professorship is conferred upon individuals who have achieved national and/or international prominence and a distinguished reputation within their chosen field. This distinction is attained through extraordinary contributions to, and impact on, the candidate’s field of study, often evidenced by significant research and/or creative activity. Moreover, the candidate should be a role model for students and other faculty and their work must be of such character that it has the potential to elevate the standards of scholarship or creative activity of colleagues both within and beyond their academic fields. […]
Howardena Pindell has also received, most recently, the College Art Association award for lifetime achievement in 2018, and in 2019, the Archives of American Art Medal. In light of the recent news of the hiring of Dr. Denise Murrell at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, those pictured at the awards ceremony are likewise pioneers in their affiliations with the museums listed in the caption below.
Pictured above are Dr. Leslie King-Hammond, Founding Director of the Center for Race and Culture at the Maryland Institute College of Art; Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims, the first African American curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; myself; Valerie Cassel Oliver, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Renee Cox, artist, curator, and assistant professor of visual arts at Columbia University; Camille Ann Brewer, curator of contemporary textile art at The Textile Museum; Dr. Howardena Pindell; Erin Gilbert, Curator of African American Manuscripts at the Archives of American Art; and Alaina Simone, art consultant and founder and director of Alaina Simone Incorporated, celebrating Howardena Pindell receiving the Archives of American Art Medal at the gala, 2019.
Each of these powerful women, in their own way, has charted a course. To paraphrase Anna Deavere Smith’s recent words at the tribute to Jessye Norman at Lincoln Center to celebrate her life on the occasion of her passing in September, they move through obstacles, rather than around them. These are women who, as Colson Whitehead’s main character Elwood Curtis in The Nickel Boys observes, are “ready to commit their weight to the great lever and move the world”.
(C) Barbara T. Hoffman, 2019.