Reactor

The Art World’s Casual Racism [UPDATED]

by Jillian Steinhauer on January 21, 2014

Left: the original Dasha Zhukova "Buro 24/7" photo (via huffingtonpost.com); right: the cropped version now online (via buro247.ru)

Left: the original Dasha Zhukova “Buro 24/7” photo (via huffingtonpost.com); right: the cropped version now online (via buro247.ru)

Yesterday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in America), the Russian magazine Buro 24/7 published a story about heiress, Artsy investor, and Garage Center for Contemporary Culture founder Dasha Zhukova. In a photo accompanying the article, Zhukova was sitting on a chair held up by a mannequin of a black woman lying on her back, her stiletto-booted feet up in the air.

I actually saw that chair, at Venus Over Manhattan last spring. It was made by Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard, in a tribute to pop sculptor Allen Jones. Jones explored fetishism and BDSM in some of his work, including a series of sculptures in the 1960s that used fiberglass women’s bodies as props for furniture. For the show at Venus Over Manhattan — which mainly featured paintings by 20th-century dealer and artist William Copley, curated by Melgaard under the aegis of Big Fat Black Cock, Inc. (red flag #1) — Melgaard re-created Jones’s pieces, except with mannequins showing women of color. (Jones’s were white women.) I found the Melgaard works quite disturbing, and myself confused by their innocent, explanation-less display in an art gallery. But, rather than say anything, I had a Zoolander, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills” kind of moment.

Installation view of Bjarne Melgaard's Allen Jones tribute pieces at Venus Over Manhattan last spring (via venusovermanhattan.com)

Installation view of Bjarne Melgaard’s Allen Jones tribute pieces at Venus Over Manhattan last spring (via venusovermanhattan.com)

Zhukova use of it in the Buro 24/7 photo shoot was … unfortunate, to say the least. (After the controversy sprang up yesterday, the magazine cropped the picture on its site, the Huffington Post explains.) She gave Gallerist a statement of apology, saying the chair’s “use in this photo shoot is regrettable as it took the artwork totally out of its intended context, particularly given that Buro 24/7′s release of the article coincided with the important celebration of the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Allen Jones's original chair (photo by Régine Debatty, via Flickr)

Allen Jones’s original chair (photo by Régine Debatty, via Flickr)

The object’s very existence, however, is the real issue here. What is its intended context? Zhukova identifies it as “one of a series that reinterprets art historical works from artist Allen Jones as a commentary on gender and racial politics.” But is that really the message the chair — and its accompanying two tables and coat rack — sends? Or, put another way, does a work that’s intended to be a “statement” on something have an obligation to do more than just replicate the awful tropes and stereotypes it claims to comment on?

In this case, the answer seems like a clear “yes.” It’s nearly impossible to find any kind of insightful takeaway from Melgaard’s use of the body of a woman of color — especially considering the piece was made by a white male artist, has been shown by at least one rich, white male dealer and collector (Adam Lindemann), and bought by a rich, white woman collector, who ends up sitting on it to make a fashion statement.

Update, January 22, 2:38pm: Artist Bjarne Melgaard and his dealer, Gavin Brown, have released a bizarre and fairly inexplicable statement in response to the controversy. It says, in part:

These sculptures, made by a self professed ‘homosexual’, expose the latent and residual self hatred in a culture where the inhuman and overpowering presence of violence and catastrophe is imminent. Our tragedy is so evident in our daily experience that Melgaard has nothing left to portray but society in its utter decay. We see this photograph to be extraordinary.

Read the whole thing at Artinfo’s In the Air blog.

  • Subscribe to the Hyperallergic newsletter!

Hyperallergic welcomes comments and a lively discussion, but comments are moderated after being posted. For more details please read our comment policy.
  • The Bronx Art Exchange-NYC

    I applaud this article. It hits to the core of the issue; with regard to the artwork, regardless if it was used as a prop or not–where’s the inherent value? I’m so sick and tired of ‘art’ like ‘religion’ being used to defend the very worst of human thought. Not this time.

  • Cat Weaver

    Bjarne Melgaard’s works are, in an appropriation context, a commentary that builds on the original’s (Allen Jones’s) gender dialog.

    The power of the works to create strong cultural dialog is displayed here. Pop a white woman on the chair, take it out of context and we are horrified. Place the chair in a collection in a gallery full of viewers (of all races) who’ve seen Clockwork Orange and/or Allen Jones’ pop art and we are edified: we see that the ironic depictions of subservience and objectification and degradation are MAGNIFIED by race issues.

    Race is a scary/sensitive/explosive topic for a white artist to toy with. But, honestly: do we want to PC white artists into silence on these issues? I know I don’t.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      To be honest, I was fairly horrified by the pieces when I saw them in the gallery. (I haven’t seen Jones’s originals, so maybe that plays a part…?) I completely get what you’re saying, and I definitely don’t want to PC white artists into silence on topics like race. But what I’m trying to get at in the post is that, for me, Melgaard’s pieces don’t DO enough. They don’t open up the ideas or issues or really raise questions—they mostly just replicate racist/sexist ideas. That’s my problem with them.

      • Cat Weaver

        But they have opened up a dialog. And in context, they do show how switching the race changes the meaning — big time. It’s like if I took the lyrics of The Rolling Stones very sexist Under My Thumb and sang them about a man: suddenly it’s about domination but by the underdog. Someone who had never heard the original might not get it.

        • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

          I personally don’t think the open any dialogue. I think they’re lazy appropriation

          • Cat Weaver

            But, Hrag: this IS a dialog. And apparently it’s happening all over the place. That photo was a real Pandora’s box (ahem).

          • O.M. Kenney

            Lazy appropriation = the sincerest form of flattery….

          • Barry Schwabsky

            “We are having a dialogue” is indeed the laziest and most insidious way of attempting to silence critical dialogue. It’s to say you are not allowed to criticize because in the very act of doing so you are giving a positive value to whatever you criticize–classic Marcusean repressive tolerance,

          • Cat Weaver

            Puh-leez: I don’t want to silence anybody. I love controversy.

        • Jillian Steinhauer

          I don’t think the Under My Thumb comparison stands, because Melgaard didn’t really switch anything up. He just took another woman—from a group MORE objectified than white women—and threw her in the same pose. You want to have a dialogue or actually spark something? Use men as furniture. Maybe then I’d think they’re interesting. In this case, we’re only having a dialogue because Dasha was dumb enough to pose sitting on one.

          • Cat Weaver

            We are indeed having a dialog about the art because Dasha’s D’oh! moment took the work out of context and placed it under a new scrutiny.

            Melgaard made a simple move that made controversial figures more controversial. The photographer one-upped him!

          • Daniel Luna

            Yes but I would totally is on the furniture if it was made out of men. That would so dumb and easy and I would have a good laugh doing it. There is no way in hell I would sit on or use Melgaard’s work. And when you say “Dasha was dumb enough to pose sitting on one.” , what you really mean to say is that she was socially unaware that the PC art people of the world would tear her a part. However her private time and use it is acceptable for her to use this furniture.

            So these pieces have been made to exist. You don’t agree with Dasha’s use of the chair, so can you please list the type of people who may use or buy these art objects?

            Doesn’t work like this exploit our fear of the PC, (In Zizek’s words), “big other”? To Weaver’s point, this work, by both artists, exposes our pre-conceived idea that once race is injected, utilized or represented, our major social problems seem to have more significance? I am not a tea-partier or something like that, but I do want to make sure my reaction to work does not come out of a learned trained reflex or emotion when I see this type of work.

            Hrag, saying these are lazy and that they do not open a dialogue was a nice way for you to not have to touch this subject. Clearly, even if the art sucks, the politics around this type of work is quite convoluted.

          • Cat Weaver

            To Daniel Luna’s questions: You don’t agree with Dasha’s use of the chair, so can you please list the type of people who may use or buy these art objects?

            Who Can BUY a black woman fetish chair:
            1) Anyone with the loot and the desire
            2) If I were the dealer: anyone with the loot and the desire to buy the entire set which I would consider one work.

            Who Can Sit in a black woman fetish chair:
            1) A freak
            2) A fetish collector
            3) A black woman
            4) Melgaard
            5) A gadfly
            6) A gallery employee scanning for a chair to crouch on while signing an invoice.

        • http://www.thebambamblog.com/ Tiernan BamBam

          Phrases such as “it opens up a dialogue”, or “it challenges” are completely devoid of qualification. Anyone can challenge or debate – the key is whether one can do it well.

          • Cat Weaver

            Okay: let’s replay. Jillian said the work did not open up or add to the dialog. I said it did and said why. Hrag said it didn’t. I said it did. Then Barry said I was trying to pull a repressive tolerance hold and I said never would I.

            Done for godsakes.

        • Joe Joejoe

          What it shows, is that racism is considered ok, as long as it’s against whites. It also shows that racism is not even considered racism when it’s against whites.

          • Daniel Luna

            Be careful of the territory you tread in with your first statement.

          • Carey Grant

            Yes, because the civil rights that Black people fought for back during the Civil Rights movement came at the expense of white people.

            Don’t you have a Tea Party convention you should be attending?

          • Joe Joejoe

            You do know that white people died by the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS to end slavery right?

          • Carey Grant

            That is true, but that does not excuse your racism.

          • Joe Joejoe

            pointing out racism and inequality against whites is not racism.

          • Carey Grant

            What?

          • Cat Weaver

            Joe, you are wayyyy off base.

          • Preying Mantis

            He doesn’t even know what you are talking about.

          • Pugilist Press

            Joe, grow a soul.

          • Preying Mantis

            Could you conservatives actually be bothered to LEARN what the people you are trolling mean when they use words like racism? If you can’t, why do you do this?

          • Joe Joejoe

            In my experience, it’s liberals who distort the meaning of racism to suit their own agenda.

    • Emily_Colucci

      I completely agree with Cat. Depending on how familiar you are with
      Bjarne Melgaard’s art, his work is VERY provocative and usually
      shocking, pushing the boundaries of sexuality, gender, drugs, race and
      yes, often good taste. While I do think the wealthy woman sitting on the
      chair does radically change the context. It still remains that Melgaard’s work means to horrify and make the audience question notions of gender, race and degradation like Cat articulated. Artists having to worry about the PC police would make for some very boring art and Melgaard’s work is many things but it’s certainly not boring

      While I think the “art world’s casual racism” certainly needs to be explored, I’m not sure the most interesting or meaningful mode of analysis is to question a singular white male artist’s work. The exhibition roster at Venus over Manhattan, the photographer’s lack of hesitation about plopping Dasha Zhukova on that chair and the long history of black women artists’ troubled experiences and invisibility in the art world and, let’s be completely honest, the art press, seems more important to me than whether Melgaard’s work is not going far enough with his critique.

      • Cat Weaver

        Venus Over Mahnattan has a very diverse exhibition roster.

      • Cat Weaver

        Agreed: the photographer really muffed it!

      • Jillian Steinhauer

        I’m not sure why it’s an either/or question. Those are all, of course, things worthy of critique, but so is Melgaard’s work.

        • Cat Weaver

          Okay: new rule: no furniture people.

          But can we please re-cast these as animals? PETA be damned!

          • Jillian Steinhauer

            LOL, I’m so into this.

          • Cat Weaver

            I think cats.

    • Carey Grant

      >But, honestly: do we want to PC white artists into silence on these issues? I know I don’t.

      Translation: White artists should be allowed to be as racist, ignorant, and appropriate without regard for anyone else who isn’t white and/or European. Especially since it’s too much effort to do any research on their subjects, better to just spread more white supremacist propaganda.

      • Cat Weaver

        That, sir, is not a translation. That’s a straw horse; beat it as you will.

        • Passion Pit

          Thank you for being a good human being. We need more of you.

        • Carey Grant

          >That, sir, is not a translation.

          Yes it is. Having a white woman sitting on a black woman who is meant to be seen as a piece of furniture demonstrates the current racial power structure in not only in the US, but in most of the world that Westerners/Europeans have gotten their hands on. This photograph and the art, itself, does nothing more than to reinforce that power structure.

          If the people behind this image/art weren’t so painfully ignorant about race, white privilege, and supremacy, and appropriation then there is a good chance that this piece and picture would not exist. Yet, they exist simply because of that ignorance. Why not have an image of a Nazi sitting on a Jeiwsh prisoner? Because that would be HORRIBLY offensive.

          I have no problem with white people making/creating art, but if all it’s doing is to just reinforce white supremacy then yes, all they are doing is contributing to racism. Claiming that by being PC you are silencing their art then yes, you are supporting their ignorance and white supremacy.

          So you can call it a ‘dead straw horse,’ but it’s just you using your privilege to negate the issue.

          • Cat Weaver

            Beat yer heart out.

          • Carey Grant

            Spoken like a true white supremacist.

          • Cat Weaver

            Grant, you still beating that straw horse?

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            I don’t get it, Cat. You don’t think white supremacy exists? I’m confused.

          • Cat Weaver

            No, Hrag: I just refuse to engage in a dialog in which words that are not mine are assigned to me. Carey Grant is not arguing with me, but instead is waxing beligerent in a dialog with a character of his own devising — a straw horse.

            Now he chooses to fling an epithet at that straw horse.

            This is, by the way, an informal fallacy, often called a straw man argument http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man:

            “A straw man is a common type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of the topic of argument. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having denied a proposition by replacing it with a different proposition (i.e., “stand up a straw man”) and then deny it (“knock down a straw man”) instead of the original proposition.[3][4]”

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            I know what a straw man is but your comment was confusing.

          • Cat Weaver

            I don’t see why: if you look at the string, you can see how that non-dialog progressed with Mr. Grant creating arguments which I had nothing to do with, and me telling him so by pointing out that he’s beating a straw horse.

    • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

      Agreed. I see a growing trend in appropriation issues being taken to their inherently illogical extreme…until people not of color are locked out of the discussion…no matter how sound their intentions may be. This growing hostility and insistence on closed cultural enclaves is a far more dangerous trend than is widely understood. Shuttered minds and spirits, dwelling in homogeneous isolation, have only ever contributed to explosions of ethnic violence…with minorities most frequently being the victims. This is everything that the work of decades has labored to prevent. I cannot imagine a worse trend than one which cements the conditions in which violent racism festers and grows most quickly. Is the process of resolving these issues easy…absolutely not…but open retreat into tiny heritage clusters is little better than bowing to antiquated Southern calls for Separate but Equal.

  • Cat Weaver

    It is appropriation and should be viewed as such. As such, it shows how race, injected into a work, magnifies it’s message of oppression. It shows how we focus. IT also recalls how controversial Allen Jones’ originals were.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      Just because it’s appropriation doesn’t mean it’s not also problematic. Saying “it’s appropriation and should be viewed as such” doesn’t preclude the critique that it’s bad appropriation.

      • Cat Weaver

        Correct: but saying that it’s appropriation and shd be viewed as such means that you have to go beyond what you are looking at and take a look at what it alludes to and then decide. I’m not saying anything about the ultimate quality of Melgaard’s work here.

        I think this conversation and the other ones going on say it all.

        • Jillian Steinhauer

          I don’t think you can take the existence of a conversation as proof of something’s positive worth. To use a very extreme example, I wrote my undergrad thesis on lynching photographs. Was there a conversation going on around them? Yes. Does that mean they were acceptable or OK? No. Their existence was simply a fact to be discuss. So yes, we’re having a conversation, but that doesn’t, in and of itself, excuse or justify Melgaard’s work.

          • Cat Weaver

            Goodness; I said no such thing. I just said it was a dialog. That it was furthering the conversation.

            Melgaard’s tribute to Jones took what he was saying about gender and submission and added race to it. When he did that, he showed how instantly the imagery was rendered more shocking, more controversial.

            The photo, taken so stupidly and so horribly out of context, one upped him in an amazing way. It may be that it revealed just how wrong it is for such items to be sold separately! IT may be that the photo shows how an much Megaard depends on the academic gallery context.

            As to the work, I’ve not said it was good or bad. It think it works. IN context.

    • http://www.thebambamblog.com/ Tiernan BamBam

      “Magnifies” is a fairly grandiose term. As far as I can tell, what you’re saying is 1. Allen’s work is about the degradation of women. 2. Melgaard’s work is about the degradation of black women. I get that. But where’s the valuable insight? What has the work revealed to us? Injecting the issue of race into an artwork is not hard – it’s very easy. Injecting it with some sort of purpose, or in a way that is genuinely illuminating about racism, is far harder.

      • Cat Weaver

        I’ve not said anything that simple, Tiernan. But as to the valuable insights and what it revealed, I think that would take an essay. What does Kara Walker’s art reveal? What insights does iIT lend? What insights are lent by depiction? What insights are lent by context? What by insights are lent by the biography of the artist?

  • Cat Weaver

    I just want to add that this dialog reminds me of the controversy that nearly ruined Rob Pruitt and Jack Early: http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/interviews/jack-early/

  • Cat Weaver

    Fun with recasting:
    1) Men in drag
    2) Male construction workers
    3) Dildos
    4) Political Figures
    5) Plushies

  • Daniel Larkin

    I agree with Hrag and Jillian that this is a problematic portrait. Lets clarify that Allen Jones’s chair means one thing as work itself in a gallery inviting reflection on representations of race. But the meaning warps when it becomes an element in a photographic portrait of Dasha Zhukova. Dasha doesn’t have a reputation as a racist. But she is rich. And many people in this world get rich on the backs of Africans or the African diaspora. For her to literally sit on the back of a black women while posing for a camera.. well it show’s a naive understanding of the legacy of African slavery and today’s economics that leave blacks poor and whites rich.

    Cat, I urge you to reconsider your position. The meaning of this image is filtered through the prism of portraiture, which has a long history of do’s and don’ts, particularly when it comes to depictions of power. It’s about far more than justifying or defending Allen Jones work. It’s about whether it’s appropriate for a wealthy woman to offer an official portrait sitting (symbolically) on a black woman. .

    • Cat Weaver

      I’ve said as much, Danny. The photo plays a crazy trick.

      • Daniel Larkin

        Well it’s great how this got us all thinking about race representation today Cat!!! And I hope you heard my friendly flamboyant tone coming across. I hate how words on screens have no tones. Can’t wait to see you soon!! XOXO

        • Cat Weaver

          Danny, no written words could reflect your friendly famboyant tone! We need to hang. All of us! Soon.

      • Pugilist Press

        Enough with this. Enough with the ludicrous idea that the picture is some sort of “error.” That it obfuscates the context rather than reveals it (Louise Lawler couldn’t have done it better). Some well off white guy made some stuff to be sold to, enjoyed and displayed by well off white people with no social conscience. That the photo came at all involved parties like a boomerang with teeth should have been expected. That it seemingly took artist, dealer, buyer, and fans by surprise is only proof of a willfull and insulting blindness.

        • Cat Weaver

          The photo does indeed reveal a LOT about the artwork, the collector, and the viewers! ANd it does indeed provide food for thought. But it was executed as a portrait; and the collector had to issue an apology (if I’m not mistaken). So it was a blunder. A big-ass PR blunder.

          Call it “willfull and insulting blindess” or call it hubris (as I would): you are correct that the photo is, as photos often are, a mirror.

          • Pugilist Press

            Calling it “Hubris” is like calling racism “culturally insensitivity”
            The blunder was revealing the contents of the minds and hearts involved. It is possible to see other things here, but it is impossible to miss the racism (and please no bs about “commenting on racism”)

          • Cat Weaver

            Sorry, I call it hubris. ANd sorry, but the work does speak to racism. That’s kind of obvious given this huge long string and the very title of the article. That it perhaps doesn’t say what you like it to say, or say it how you like it to be said is another matter.

    • Fedor Tikhomirov

      Dasha doesn’t have a reputation as a racist. But she is rich. And many people in this world get rich on the backs of Africans or the African diaspora. For her to literally sit on the back of a black women while posing for a camera.. well it show’s a naive understanding of the legacy of African slavery and today’s economics that leave blacks poor and whites rich.

      As far as I’m concerned, Russians don’t have anything to do with African slavery, so this whole ‘white guilt’ thing isn’t really appropriate in this particular case.

  • Robert Redus

    I agree with you Cat Weaver, appropriation is an essential component of producing art on many levels. The original pieces by Allen in 1969, can be seen as Iconic Pop Art. Whether a person agrees with that or not, Allen was a significant Pop Artist and caused a controversy with this and other works.

    The appropriation and construction of these by Melgaard is a pre-designed, proven controversy, it’s already built in. And regardless of whether one sees this as art or not one of the goals of artists is…..dialogue. Contextually they are as significant as the originals based on the response by readers and viewers.

    As far as Dasha Zhukova’s choice of seating, I can’t imagine she was naive in choosing this. Part of her mission statement reads, “creating opportunities for public dialogue and the production of new work and ideas.” My guess is The Garage web site has seen a significant jump in visits!!

    • Cat Weaver

      I wince.

  • Keith Wiley

    House of Gord. The similarity is too obvious to ignore.

  • Billy Vaughn

    Just looks like crap to me, outside the racial tones. I definitely don’t get art.

  • http://avangionq.stumbleupon.com/ AvangionQ

    Are these artworks supposed to be about feminism or racism? Taking that whole `viewing women as objects` trope way too far …

  • gregormendel

    Let me get this straight, the crux of your argument is based upon skin color? Would this piece get a different treatment if the colors were reversed?

    Also, stop calling people white or black. Just call them people. Maybe it will catch on…

    • Pugilist Press

      Only people whose skin colore doesn’t get them regularly harassed by the police, and insulted by the culture at large can say that. White privilege doesn’t need to catch on, it’s pervasive enough as it is.

  • samktg

    Some people have a hard time understanding that exaggerating racist and misogynistic tropes does not, in fact, deconstruct or render them ridiculous. It’s not ridiculous when far too many people literally believe these tropes, and use them to socially and politically disenfranchise the people they supposedly describe.

    Heard of Poe’s law? This is the art equivalent. Whether Melgaard is a “provocateur” or a mouth-frothing racist is irrelevant, the effect is identical. This kind of speech has no place in contemporary discourse.

    • gregormendel

      “This kind of speech has no place in contemporary discourse.”

      Interesting. Considering that the only people using racist terms such as “black” & “white” are people such as yourselves. Besides, are you really willing to restrict the freedom of speech simply because of an irrational fear that people will use a picture of a woman sitting on a mannequin “to socially and politically disenfranchise” certain people that fit a very defined and completely arbitrary criteria?

      • samktg

        Why are you commenting here? You clearly have no interest in seriously engaging the topic at hand.

        • gregormendel

          Could you please be more specific?

          • samktg

            A) colorblind rhetoric. B) putting words in my mouth and of “people such as [our]selves.” C) mischaracterizing a call for people to stop reproducing racism and misogyny in their commentaries on race and gender and denying such people platforms in galleries and museums as a restriction on freedom of speech (which I have no power over as a private individual).

          • gregormendel

            Colorblind rhetoric? As you may know (or not, no problem) it is very frustrating to be consistently identified as a “black man” rather than as a human being. It is just as frustrating to see others labeled in the same way. Stop it.

            The art showcased above is tasteless, vulgar, and cheap. But it’s just art. If the above picture tweaks you so, simply ignore it, and go about your life.

            And yes, a colorblind perspective will happen. The percentage of foreign-born individuals in Western nations is growing (like in the early 1900’s). The difference (between now and the early 20th century) is that these foreigners are not predominantly European or East Asian, but Indian, Middle-Eastern, African, and Hispanic. We’re becoming a melting pot once again and the demarcations of race are slowly receding.

            So get with the program. That “white” person you despise so much? In the future he may not be so “white”. That “black” person you view as helpless? He may not be so “black”. Shatter this fucking status quo of labeling individuals based upon skin color (and wealth, but that’s another topic).

    • Cat Weaver

      “This kind of speech has no place in contemporary discourse.”
      Honestly?

      I agree that “exaggerating racist and misogynistic tropes does not, in fact, deconstruct or render them ridiculous.” But no one is saying that. Melgaard wasn’t just exaggerating. He took Jone’s work and swapped races. It was, like it or not, a move that speaks.

      Jone’s work was just fetish on a platter. It was like a Koons or a Warhol, a picture of some stuff we do. That many of them were women was attributed by eggheads as a statement about gender; perhaps it was. I doubt it. But the result was a dialog about some things we do and who does them. All that’s dandy. Plus the stuff was fun and eye-catching. (Am I being too casual? So were the pop artists.)

      Melgaard took the women and made them black. He did it in the context of an art show that featured a black artist. He was, to my mind, taking the discourse to the race place. That’s dangerous, and, some think, reckless. Fine.

      But there IS indeed a place for that kind of speech. Here. In the gallery. In the Garage with a dollop of Dasha. In class rooms. In art history. In the United States.

      Now if the whole piece is a horrid, bastardized throw-back: so be it. But don’t say there’s “no place” for that kind of speech.

  • Kaitlin Rush

    These pieces are the human version of a bear-skin rug. “Art” or simply the tacky kitsch of conquest.

  • jmco

    Offensive to women no matter the race too!

    • Mark Choi

      Only to women easily offended.

  • Synpax

    This article is missing a link to where you can buy the black woman chair. I would like a set for my dining room.

  • Nettrice

    As black women how they feel about it.

  • THEBRICKSTUDIO

    The work may be lazy but it is an equally lazy critique to assign the racist label. This sort of simplistic attitude is reminiscent of those who can’t still can’t get past Piss Christ as sacrilege.

    There may be more context than you think. For example, google image search: “blackamoor stools” and smoke a joint with an anthropologist.

    Honest question: How many black contributors does Hyperallergic have? Does that make your viewpoint “casually racist”? No, it would be lazy and unfair to assume that.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      I don’t think it’s a stretch of the imagination at all to say that the work and the way it’s been shown and used reveal racist undertones in the art world. I don’t think Melgaard himself is a racist, and I’m sure he thought he was doing something smarter or more subtle with the piece. But just because he thought that doesn’t mean I have to agree. I’m not sure what our number of black contributors has to do with anything here.

      • THEBRICKSTUDIO

        The Dasha photo is idiotic but I don’t understand why you take issue with the mere existence of the work. It’s a surface-level copout to to assign racism to the work solely because you can’t find your own meaningful context for it. I honestly don’t like the work either but disagreeable taste is different from the racist undertones you insinuate.

        Regarding your contributors, I was applying the same metric by which you are judging the whiteness of this work to your own staff. You found it confusing and unfounded. Exactly. See what happened there?

        • Jillian Steinhauer

          I think you’re oversimplifying my discussion of the artwork, basically reading the title of the piece into my writing, when the two aren’t the same thing. As I say above, my question is: should a work that claims to comment on something do more than just replicate stereotypes by rote? I think so. And I don’t think this work succeeds. I’m not calling the work itself racist, but I am talking about the way the art world accepts and fosters a kind of unspoken structural racism (like the rest of the US), using the creation and display of this artwork as an example.

          I still don’t understand your “metric” and how it relates to anything I’ve said.

          • THEBRICKSTUDIO

            Your viewpoint is so basic It would impossible to oversimplify your “discussion”. You admittedly barely scraped the surface of this work. A Huffpost-style headline regarding a complex issue followed by a couple hundred words of “I don’t get it” will not do the trick.

            @Hrag, this is embarrassing. Coming from a longtime fan of this site.

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            It’s not embarrassing, but thanks for your perspective.

  • Jake

    B.S. to the moaners and groaners. It’s art. It’s supposed to inspire thought – positive, negative or otherwise. The message is in the viewer’s mind. Art is a mirror; what you see is what you think or how you choose to see the world. Don’t presume to know the artist’s intent. Feel free to share your singular perspective about what you see but don’t attempt to censor the artist and thereby stifle the wide range of discourse that comes from provocative art.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      I’m not sure where you got the idea that I’m advocating censorship, but I’m not.

      • Jake

        Jillian, my point about censorship wasn’t intended for you specifically, just to those among readers or commenters who may think we shouldn’t have this kind of art in the world. I’m happy to hear you’re not advocating censorship.

    • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

      There is good and bad art. This is bad.

      • Jake

        Bad because it’s “ugly?” Bad because it’s “unoriginal?” Bad because it’s “insensitive?” Bad because it makes some people uncomfortable? I’m not trolling for fights, just asking timeless questions about the subjective nature of art and art criticism. I think if we all have somewhat-open minds here, there is much thought to be shared and lots to be learned about each other and, perhaps, one’s self. That, to me, is art’s mission accomplished.

      • Jake

        Was my reply moderated out? I think it was quite fair.

        • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

          No, I’ll check but sometimes the spam filter is over eager and I have to manually ok it.

      • Jake

        Mr. Vartanian, your site says it “welcomes comments and lively discussion.” If the moderator is allowed to reply to a guest with his/her opinion, should not the guest also be entitled to reply in a fair, rational and “lively” manner without being censored? If I thought my comment was unfair or simply trolling in nature, I would understand. Unfortunately, I feel as though my differing opinion was simply quashed and yours was left as the final word. I’m disappointed because you certainly seem to have a fine site going in all other regards. Thanks for your consideration.

        • Jake

          I withdraw my above comment; apparently I needed to re-sort the comments as “newest” to find my reply was, in fact, posted. Mea culpa. Apologies and thanks for the fine site.

      • Mr. Jones

        Not according to art historians in academia…but I’m just playing Devil’s advocate. I agree there is good and bad art.

  • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

    Making a statement is not the point of art. Ads make a statement too.

    • Cat Weaver

      It is, in fact, one of the crucial points of art, and the very reason it is protected by coypright. That said, a statement can be done well or badly. I think Melgaard did a neat trick by making a spine-chilling statement with one easy shift. Others here think he created a careless, lazy obscenity born of a wreckless casual attitude toward race.

      btw, for the record, I don’t “like” the piece at all. Taste is nothing.

  • lafemmeartiste

    The body of a woman, of ANY color…

  • Lenin Ovalles

    I think in all art forms, a work of art can be viewed as several images. It can easily be seen as an exposition of skill, or an aesthetic object, the same way it could be analyzed as an image of society. I think when showcasing art one really has to be aware of this social image, and be cognizant of how the values that such artwork embodies would be received today. Its because of this social image that an ensemble can’t play Wagner’s symphonic works in Israel and Palestine, or why it isn’t suitable to show Disney’s “Song of the South” to a second grade class today. To many people, they embody values that clash with the shared moral conscience most of us have today. I think its rational to express a lot of discord and animosity to the photographer, the magazine, and everyone in charge for completely choosing to neglect how this discriminatory piece would be received in a society trying to strive for equality for so many groups. Even if it is to spark a discussion and dialog, the hyper-circulation and discussion of these discriminatory and subjugative values on the internet could very well cause it to diffuse into the values embedded in our shared moral conscience and thats something I’m not okay with, regardless of race.

  • Cat Weaver

    Me too.

  • Erin Peloquin

    I’m going to say this, and I know I’m going to get a lot of backlash for this:

    It’s only racist if you say it’s racist, or if the person behind it says something along the lines of “I hate (insert race here). I looked at this and saw ugly furniture. Not because it was black women, the one made out of “white” women was just as ugly. What were to happen if we put BOTH collections together? Would it still be racist? Racism will continue to live on ONLY so long as people continue to find racism in the stupidest of things. I knew someone who tried to tell me pool (billiards) was racist, because you have a WHITE ball trying to get the BLACK ball off the table. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?! It’s THAT kind of thinking that keeps racism alive, and frankly I am so sick of hearing people call racism over EVERYTHING. Our country is becoming so politically correct that people get offended over the most insignificant things. Football teams that have been around for decades are now under scrutiny because their name is “racist” (Redskins, for example), people getting upset over people using blackface as part of a Halloween costume (it’s a COSTUME, for crying out loud!!! Would you be as upset if it was a mask?!) I swear, every time I hear about someone crying “racist” over stupid crap like this, I want to beat them in a head with a history book and show them what TRUE racism is.

    • thelovelyjazmin

      You do not know what racism is.

    • Severine7

      Racism is a lot more insidious, invisible, and far-reaching than what has been recorded in our history books, Erin.

  • Preying Mantis

    That seems to be your purpose, but not the purpose of this work.

    • Liz

      Only the artist knows the true purpose of the work. Everyone else can guess and imagine, and some people have violent reactions to art that is relatively benign. I posed an alternate potential meaning to the work and you, a person who is likely not the artist, have so shut down your ability to think beyond your own initial reaction that you are attempting to deny my opinion as though yours is fact. That is, unfortunately, not the case, so I will just hope you can eventually get past your own racism to see the possibility that this art may very well be a commentary on the state of today’s attitudes on race. Of course, I am also not the artist, but I wasn’t immediately struck by some “white power” insinuation from the photo so much as “Do people doing BDSM actually have attachable seats like that?” :P My ability to consider a myriad of meanings isn’t hindered by skin color implications, obviously.

      • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

        Your belief in artist’s intent is almost innocent. It has no role in art criticism or reception, it is something for historians who may want to look back. When you have to rely on an artist’s intent all that does is highlight the fact that the artist was unable communicate to the public through the art work itself — which is exactly what is happening here. Weak work, weak concept that exploits a week idea pretending to be more complex than it is.

        • Cat Weaver

          On this too, I differ: the artist’s intent plays a huge role in criticism and reception: it informs the lens the artist was looking through. Museums, galleries, and artists all issue artist statements which color the works we look at and inform our approach.

          The artist’s intent is a small, but important part, of the reason we look, and, the spirit in which we look.

          Looking is not objective.

        • Chris

          The only thing I can agree with you about is that the work is weak and the idea behind it weaker. Which raises the question of “artist intent,” that you categorically dismiss. This sounds like some kind of post-modern theoretical nonsense that is totally without merit or meaning. If the artist’s intentions for her/his own work is meaningless then what generates painting, sculpture, literature, architecture, music, theater, dance? If art does not arise from a thought or intention, where does it originate? The mind of the viewer/audience? Yes, meanings change and how we perceive work in the present may be very different from it’s original intention. Cathedrals become tourist attractions and railroad stations become art museums. More interesting is the entire question of appropriation art, something artists have always done. As with any form of theft, a light touch is far more desirable than heavy-handed bricks or baseball bats or black or white women as furniture.

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            It’s not postmodern at all. You are confusing historical works, where intent does come into play, with contemporary ones. The artist’s intent in contemporary works are not relevant to the reception. A critic can take it into account but it’s not necessary, or shouldn’t be for a successful work.

          • Chris

            So the artist’s intention has no relevance to how an audience perceives the work. Huh? I understand how “reception” changes over time but can’t quite understand how it doesn’t inform contemporary work? I’ve actually seen the Jones works in person (and spoken with Jones) and his precise (and complex) intentions may never be completely known although he “intentionally” put it out there for a mostly angry reception. That work existed in a fraught time-frame (Clockwork Orange and Betty Friedan included). The Melgaard reprise just seems trifling–although the photo of Dasha may actually become iconic and representative of a deeply disturbed contemporary art world. At the end of the day I’d trust the artist’s intention for contemporary work over any critic’s notion of “reception” but then critics never get this stuff wrong, do they?

  • Jillian Steinhauer

    As I said in a comment above, the fact that something “makes a statement” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily positively valuable or good. Lots of things make statements.

    • Cat Weaver

      Jillian, to be fair, the address of whether or not the work “makes a statement” was initiated in your comment to me: “Melgaard’s pieces don’t DO enough. They don’t open up the ideas or
      issues or really raise questions—they mostly just replicate
      racist/sexist ideas.”

      If you look at it this way, we are just examining one of the many ways the work makes itself valid. What does it DO? Does it open up ideas? Does it raise questions? Or is it a mere iteration of same ol’ same ol’?

      Everyone here will disagree ’till this string runs itself out. And that is because those questions are, and remain valid, no matter who’s art you are looking at and how offensive it may be.

    • Mr. Jones

      After reading through this article and these comments, I have one question… It seems like you (Jillian) saw this work before the photograph… Why did it take the photograph of this Russian socialite sitting on the sculpture to write an article about it? Why didn’t the criticism come when you first saw the work?

      • Jillian Steinhauer

        That’s a good question. I don’t really know. I think I wondered if I was overreacting to the pieces, and if I was somehow crazy for being offended by them when everyone else seemed to think they were fine. I doubted myself, so I let it go.

        • Mr. Jones

          I totally get that…but never doubt yourself! How would this conversation be different if it was, “I saw these pieces in the gallery and I find them offensive because…” as opposed to “look at this wealthy white woman sitting on a racist piece of furniture?” The reason I ask is because the focus of these comments are more politics (word choice?) than a true discourse on the merits of the art, itself. Some of the insane things that people post on this article really have nothing to do with the art whatsoever (not to mention names)… And I’m sure there will always be ignorance in the world, but what I guess I am trying to say is that now the “art” is no longer the core of the argument, which I believe it should be. Now we have “look at wealthy white lady sitting on racist furniture.” It’s almost as if we’re critiquing the photograph (or the poor PR choices of a socialite) rather than the work of art. I still love reading your work.

          • Jillian Steinhauer

            Well, to be fair, I do think that Dasha sitting on the chair is what pushed me over the edge. And some other people have argued that that’s the real issue, rather than the piece itself. But thank you!

  • thelovelyjazmin

    I think this is very important for white people. Many do not realize the extent of the alienation against nonwhites in the art world. How can I, a black woman, ever feel comfortable in a place where this is the only representation of people who look like me? We have always been taught that a black woman’s place is to be a tool that others use for their own betterment. This is not a new or interesting story. This should not even be a shocking, dialog spawning event. This is so basic and so OLD.

    So screw this boring woman who shows off her wealth by the fact that she dropped thousands on an ancient representation of centuries of racism/sexism. Nothing here is worthy of a second glance. At least be avant garde with your racism.

  • Preying Mantis

    “And if the woman in the photo had been sitting on a Caucasian mannequin from the original collection, we wouldn’t be hearing such a ruckus.” Do you really think that’s true? It’s as if there isn’t a single feminist website on the internet. I think Slate would produce the response you somehow feel is missing. Or even this one, for that matter.

  • The Bronx Art Exchange-NYC

    We have it all wrong. Until Bjarne Melgaard’s Allen Jones tribute pieces were created none of us even knew about racism or misogyny. I mean, really–this is a seminal piece of art that must be protected and defended at all costs! Why, you ask?

    Well, if were not this white man from one of the whitest and wealthiest places on earth finding the courage to make this art–there simply would be no conversation about racism or misogyny. Before this, even black women had NO CLUE–ZERO consciousness that they were being subjected to racism, or that they were even black–for that matter.

    Didn’t you know, that Norway is THE preeminent cultural authority on racism, the African diaspora, the slave experience, apartheid, Jim Crow laws and segregation??? Come on, read a book! Yes. Were it not for this work–we would all simply be clueless fools. Because of Melgaard, black women no longer wear bandanas, make pancakes and sing plantation hyms–because they saw this work–and alas, became aware!

    There are naysayers who will suggest that Bjarne Melgaard is a narcissist who’s only objective was to garner attention for himself. But I say, you are wrong. He has selflessly put aside his white male privilege and tapped into something so deep within the core of his own soul. Yes, he knows the scars of racism and of sexual subjugation even more intimately than women, black or white. And he has found the bravery to inform us all.

    Without this ART we would all simply forget about racism and misogyny. We’d all be walking around with fog in the brain. This is why it matters–it’s a symbol like no other. Forget about all those black people droning on about this that and the other–no, it’s Melgaard, OK!? It’s HE and HE ALONE who captures the message and delivers it so perfectly that all us have been converted in our awareness. Without his art, the very human race could not advance–this is why we must aggressively defend it!

    You also have it wrong about that rich White Russian woman. People! That was performance art! Yes, she was simply demonstrating what a rich white Russian woman who is evil and racist would look like should she opt to engage with the work. Get off her back–the White woman, not the black one.

    And to all those who are defending Melgaard, et al. (especially the white women) we say, “Bravo/Brava!” Well done–you have taught us all that yes, this is ART in all capital letters. You really got it. You really got it!

    Well Done!

  • Cat Weaver

    For a peek inside of Melgaard, his POV, his art group Big Fat Black Cock, inc., and the world he comes from, I point everyone to this article in Gallerist:

    http://galleristny.com/2011/10/after-shelley-duvall-bjarne-melgaard-on-his-unwieldy-show-at-maccarone/

    “Earlier, we had met Mr. Melgaard’s lover, Omar Harvey, a tall, rail-thin black artist who was wearing a wife-beater shirt printed with the Budweiser logo. He stood near one of his paintings, which said in tall black letters, “NIGGER ON A WHITE TRIGGER.” As we had waited for Mr. Melgaard to finish work on the installation, Mr. Harvey explained that there had been trouble earlier in the day.
    In the windows of Maccarone, Mr. Harvey had placed paintings by a group called Big Fat Black Cock, Inc., paintings that essentially were copies of William Copley’s copulating lovers remade with black characters. Some neighbors had been offended and called the police. At the moment, the windows were covered with paper.
    “I think that’s incredible,” Mr. Melgaard told us in the back room. “I think those things are incredibly beautiful, and they’re made by African Americans. It’s kind of like—whoa, there are black people in America who do not feel inferior to white people.” The artist is from Norway (he represented the nation in the Venice Biennial this year), and when Big Black Cock had a show there, he said, the work sold out. No one had raised an alarm.”

    • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

      Wow, it takes a white person to employ black people to make art that is supposedly a declaration of their non-inferiority? I’m going to hope he shares the profits with them. Sounds like a mess IMO.

      • Cat Weaver

        Ouch. Did you read the article? It really does give some insight, not so easily dismissed. The man has a POV that many will not like but it is about a sexual world that smacks of violence and is w/out apologies, racial, economic or otherwise.

        Also, Fat Black Cock, inc. is not under Melgaard’s employ: it is a group he belongs to. I suspect the group is him and Omar Harvey, to tell the truth, but I’m just guessing there.

        • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

          I’ve seen BFBC works in person and am uninterested in them. I was reacting to your comment.

          • Cat Weaver

            Your interest in them is beside the point, though. My point went to the context, the POV, the artist’s statement, what he’s trying to convey. BFBC takes your white fetish figures and raises you five black ones. Why? Cuz BFBC wanst to try them on for size. Cuz it looked like fun.

      • Cat Weaver

        I, personally, felt like Emily Lutella after reading that article and looking up Melgaard: I thought, well, then, never mind. Not only never mind what I gassed on about, but what everyone here is on about. It just get’s it all wrong; we were race-baited.

        • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

          It’s there. What is missing?

  • Aarron Dixon

    So statues of white people are recreated as statues of black people, and the author is offended that they’re black… the only racism I see is by the author and their ilk. I think I’m the one taking crazy pills here, because this “controversy” strikes me as unexplainably insane.

  • Pugilist Press

    Reparations have everything to do with the racist present rather than the racist past. Give me back my brethren that are in jail fueling your economy. Stop interfering with black nations. Give us back the jobs that we are the first to lose and last to get. I’m pointing the finger at the current White Supremacy, I could care less about a bunch of bigots long turned to dust.

    • Liz

      I’m not sure you realize that policies put into place long before many of us were even born affect us today. Racism has compounding ripple effects; this does not mean today the world is ruled by some evil white supremacy out to get you. For example : http://www.civilrights.org/publications/reports/fairhousing/historical.html

      The government’s attempt to improve housing for those who could least afford it resulted in racial segregation of housing, thereby forcing blacks (still recovering from centuries of slavery) to live in ghettos. Today, we still see racial segregation because those invisible housing lines often result in substandard education, library access, other public services, and an increase in drug and gang violence due to low income conditions/hardship. Less opportunity may very well be simply due to less education, therefore less qualification, therefore less job prospects in a rebounding economy. 35% of gang members are black, compared to 14% white and 44% Hispanic. Hispanics also heavily populate our prisons, “fueling our economy” as you say. The propensity of the US judicial system to put first time offenders for drugs and property theft for years contributes to recidivism (released criminals have little access to services to help them reintegrate into society), which in turn increases the number of people in jail across the board. These things were put into motion even before my 87-year-old grandmother was born. Furthermore, *everyone* in jail — especially for drugs — is being abused by for-profit prisons endorsed by floundering state and federal economies.

      I’m a disabled female and technically qualify for all the “reparations” meant for minorities. I have been a single, unwed mother and never collected a dime of welfare and my child never suffered for my going to college and working to keep us in an apartment, well fed and safe. Why? Because I realize that someone handing me free stuff is not necessarily a good thing. There is no drive to improve my situation if my situation is made livable by free money. I think affirmative action is the worst thing that anyone could do for me because it insults my worth and potentially damages a company by hiring an individual not particularly suited for a job simply to meet quotas and get tax credits. There is no modern relevant basis for many of these societal reparations, particularly as society is increasingly concerned with acceptance of all colors, sexual orientations, and creeds to the point of being rabidly PC. It’s fairly clear that the rising generations understand that we are all equal; continuing to force payment for something that is punishable by law at this point is a little ridiculous.

      And it’s even more difficult to complain about the US interfering with black nations when our black President is interfering with or allowing past interferences to continue with virtually everyone. Ever since WWII, the US has tried to stick its fingers into all the pots under the guise of delivering democracy to the four corners of the Earth. I’m a big fan of going back to isolationism and non-interventionism. If everyone wants to overthrow their governments or blow themselves to Hell, regardless of skin color, so be it. Our economy would be better and more jobs for everyone if we didn’t allow so much off-shoring and military action to occur around the globe.

      I understand your stance, I truly do. But I am also a follower of logic and can see the overarching effects of systems put into place over the past 250 years. Most of us born in the 80s have had racial equality drilled into us since kindergarten and we’re now coming onto the political stage, the business stage, and the family stage. Anyone who hasn’t learned that skin color is just a difference in skin pigment will soon be gone, and this conversation will be a silly memory.

      • Pugilist Press

        Sorry, but you do not understand where I’m coming from. Your certainty is perhaps part of the problem.
        Fewer opportunities are not simply based on less education. Me and mine are at a clear disadvantage in all areas because blacks have limited access to careers, loans, housing, education beyond our educations and even our pocketbooks. Or do you also have first hand experience of being shut out of certain business transactions because of the color of your skin? I’m talking about simple things like gas, food lodging.
        We get fewer raises, promotions, commendations, scholarships, than whites with the exact same qualifications.
        You mention “gangs” and you use it to color our view of crime. A gang is a specific type of criminal organization, but each criminal activity committed by “gangs” is also comitted by white criminals, overwhelmingly so. They may not be call “gangs,” but they sling that dope, they pop those caps, and they’re quite fond of OPP. If you turn it around and look at white collar crime, the kind that destroys communities, then your ratios speak a very different truth.
        So yes we do live in a White Supremacy, and yes it is out to get us. Just look at police activity: who gets arrested, investigated, murdered, beaten by the police paints an undeniable picture in this country.
        You cannot have your cake and eat it too.You can’t bring up African actions. And then turn around when I mention American interventionism in that same continent with “Well we’re an equal opportunity meddler.”
        I’m sorry but I work and live around those of you “born in the 80s” I teach them. I see them a dinner parties. I llisten to the music they make. I see the movies they make. I read their articles. I work in their homes. And a significant portion are racist as hell. Most of the rest refuse to even acknowledge that White Priviledge exists. How are those people gonna lead to a better world if we are not constantly calling them on their bullshit? I guess that special episode of Blossom didn’t take. Especially since it was followed by 3 hours of “Cops” and the lies from CNN.
        No such thing as free money. It’s call investing in the constituency. Succesful communities have been doing it since the invention of money. America does a lot of it, just not so much past Buffy and Trent’s neighborhood. We’re not asking for anything more than what are white neighbor is getting. Reparations is less about what you “owe” us and more about the idea that you should stop taking from us.
        And in case you were wondering your points do sound like a polite version of a Storfront soccer mom.

  • samktg

    It is utterly offensive that Melgaard would use his gayness as some kind of explanation or excuse for these visual slurs against black women. So fucking tired of fellow white queer men thinking that not being straight is a license to be racist and misogynist.

    • Cat Weaver

      He didn’t use it as an excuse. He didn’t say any such thing, as far as we know.

      • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

        To be fair, Cat, he did issue it as an official comment.

        • Cat Weaver

          You mean Gavin Brown’s thing? Ha. That’s not an excuse, that’s a mad, broken lil’ manifesto.

          But Melgaard is about the pain. That’s not an excuse. It’s background.

          I do find it odd to see the sculpture as a slur against black women: it is, from what I’ve seen, an equal opportunity fetish sculpture.

          • samktg

            I find it odd that you are so insistent on the primacy of Melgaard’s intent and milieu. These works exist in a wider world where we are constantly barraged with the narrative of black women’s hypersexuality and lack of agency. These works literally reproduce this narrative in the form of bound black women in fetish-wear. They are the visual equivalent to any number of slurs leveled at black women. Melgaard may have intended whatever it is you say he intended, but it is irrelevant when he has used a slur – which will never be leveled against him – to say it.

          • Cat Weaver

            Nothing odd about it; I was inviting you to look through the artist’s lens, not because I was assigning “primacy” (I think I pointed that out) but because it’s there for you to look through.

            Also: he did not use a “slur”: he used a black woman in fetish gear. A depiction of what may be a person, an equal, who has chosen submission because that’s a sex thing she does.

            That we see the woman as a victim, particularly, that we her as belonging to a particular group of oppressed people, reveals our own position in history. One of the most disturbing things that is revealed is how instantly we assume a position of lesser power as soon as we see a depiction of a person of color. Why are we so HIGHLY sensitive to power dynamics especially when mixed with race? We have many many good reasons. And they color, even BLOCK our view at times.

          • samktg

            This isn’t about what a hypothetical black woman does in the bedroom, but what a white man has placed in the gallery. The mannequins aren’t depictions of specific individuals with a choice in the manner they are portrayed, but quotations of Jone’s originals. To say Melgaard’s works may be a depiction of “an equal” is facetious. In a transcendental ideal state, yes, all humans are equal, but we do not exist on the transcendental plane of ideas. This is the material world where patriarchy and white supremacy operate to ensure, in practice, that in terms of race and gender black women are not the equals of white men.

            If these works – which normalize and perpetuate the myth of the hypersexual black woman, used for centuries now as a tool of oppression, disenfranchisement, and denial of agency – are not the visual equivalent of a slur, I have no idea what is.

          • Cat Weaver

            I don’t think these works “normalize” anything. ON the contrary, Megaard loves to toxify things. And I think that the only thing they have to do with “the myth of the hypersexual black woman” is they anticipate that people will indeed see those myths just because the sculpture depicts a black submissive.

  • Cat Weaver

    Ha. Gavin Brown: what are you ON? With dealers like that, who needs critics!

  • Joe Joejoe

    That’s kind of what I was getting at.

    Based on purely on race, they take on a different context. A black woman sitting on top of a white woman for example, is seen as less severe as a white woman sitting on a black woman…….when both should be seen as equally ‘wrong’…..yet only one really is. this just proves that equality does not exist……but not for the black woman, but rather the white woman, or just white people in general.

    to delve even further, a black woman sitting on a white woman is actually viewed as non racist or even in a positive light as if it’s a victory of some sort., i.e. empowering

    however, a white woman sitting on a black woman is oppositely seen as racism and a defeat of the black woman. i.e. dis-empowering.

    these are the subtleties of racism that permeate everyday american life, and disproportionately affect and demonize white people.

  • http://www.nathaliacalderon.com/ Nathalia Calderon-Bucki

    I agree 100%- totally objectification of women more than a racial statement. I mean I see she might want to say women are used like furniture but she uses clothing that relates to strippers or porn characters- those women chose to put themselves in those situations.

  • Cat Weaver

    If you seek further background –a review of last spring’s Venus Over Manhattan, Copley,/BFBC (Melgaard and co) show Gangbusters, this, from the bad guys over at LB:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/14/william-copley-and-big-fat-black-cock-inc-join-forces-for-a-very-nsfw-exhibition-gang-bust-_n_3053600.html

  • Paul Werner

    Over the past decade or so, Eastern Europeans hipsters and culturati have been aggressively pushing the worst kind of anti-African racism: a kind of post-Soviet return of the repressed, I guess. In Vienna, for instance, the so-called hip have been flaunting the N-word in exhibitions, discussing their “right” to do so, etc. From my viewpoint as an outside observer, being black in Eastern Europe must feel like a replay of being Jewish in the Interwar period.

    Perhaps the best one can do is point out to our Eastern European and Caucasian friends that this kind of thing is not at all hip: that in fact it shows them up for the same old arrogant new-rich butter-and-egg boors as before. Thanks for trying.

    James Jackson Jiveass
    EEOC Adviser,
    WOID, a journal of visual language

  • cacs

    I’d like to see what Carrie Mae Weems would make of the photo in one of her appropriation works. Her retrospective at the Guggenheim demonstrates gender and racial stereotypes in a multi-dimensional way. There’s no doubt her work is art with many levels of meaning, whereas the chair is a one-liner.

  • anotherbozo

    I remember when LeRoi Jones staged a slave auction and members of the audience were asked to bid on the black actors. That may have been a way to bring historic dehumanization into the vivid here and now. This “chair”, once the shock wears off, is just silly, or at best witty, and the most positive response would be amusement, not raised consciousness of any kind. The Jones play was easily 50 years ago, but much racist- and feminist art today is provocative without challenging anyone’s values. Of course shock is the point of much art now and can be seen as almost a business strategy. Shock > Publicity > Fame > Success.

  • Maria Gerccio

    This entire thread is hilarious. The divine mystery of difference and light and dark is mostly lost to the deliberative art world; meanwhile a half-serious representation of BDSM and power play is no where to be found here.

    Just so we can dispatch obvious points of access for cultural warriors, I’m a woman of Italian / Croatian / Romanian (7/8) and African (1/8) descent, third generation American. My great-grandmother on my mother’s side was an Ethiopian Jew. Most people are surprised to hear I have any race about me other than southern European, but there you go – that’s how much it matters. Color is what the viewer sees, and I see all colors when I look in the mirror and when I get into good art. Whether my races are germane to the present “dialogue” will depend for you, dear reader, on what you’ve got going on.

    However, perhaps even more interesting for the present debate is the fact that I am also a practicing submissive who finds objectification (especially that of fornophilia, which is how I came across this debate) intensely effective for inducing altered, possibly transcendent, states (not to mention hot). My sexuality draws me to BDSM, and through BDSM to my spiritual essence, which inheres in conscious realization of my indistinctness; individuation is the veil, and the means to taste the transcendent unity are available in innumerable flavors, kink and art being among the mother sauces of the mystical gourmandine.

    If anyone would care to have the opinion of a woman of (some) color about whether the interaction between BDSM, art and transcendent aspiration might not be conveyed via the agency of submissive women of color, I would say we are not inadequate to the task. Indeed, I believe that color ups the stakes in any deliberation on power, and that my bit of color has been dignified and even ennobled by the lethal depredations of racism, which has not killed color but made it stronger (same goes for Jewishness). My history has been battle tested and hardened, if you please. Artistic representations of racial difference do not even show on my map, and certainly do not qualify as de facto racism. This 45 year old black woman can not only take a white Rus sitting on my upturned bottom, I can love it and be transformed by it. I have that power, and I find art that speaks to it uplifting.

    With all due respect, people who need the comfort of chairs and stale art-theoretical bromides are actually in a weakened state. Real power is found in successfully navigating the chaos of the morally vague or confused of any color or creed.

  • Jan

    Very predatory behavior for a human.

  • Eric Kuns

    The photo that originally appeared in the Russian magazine
    was startlingly, viscerally offensive. The sculpture, in and of itself, may be
    as well, but I’d want to research the artist’s work before getting out the tar
    and feathers. It would be naive to assume the work is intended literally, and
    is not a critique of that which it represents. However, I can’t decipher how it
    is being critical, and I also don’t know enough about the kind of fetishes
    involved, whether people are willing participants or not, and why, to come to
    any conclusion. What is surprising is that people didn’t realize the stylish
    photo of Dasha Zhukova looks like a bright, shining example of thick,
    juicy, racism.

    However, I also find the article slips into decades-old,
    anti-white, anti-white male essentialism, and convenient racism/sexism. I
    thought people had woken up to the fact that anyone and everyone can be
    ignorant, and thus can be a racist, and conversely ascribing any quality to
    someone as a necessary characteristic of their DNA is racist. The concluding
    paragraph by the author asserts that Melgaard’s work is less likely
    redeemable because ” the piece was made by a white male artist, has been
    shown by at least one rich, white male dealer and collector … and bought by a
    rich, white woman collector.”

    Somehow white people are automatically equated with embodying
    racism here. One need only mention that the artist or collectors were white in
    order to close the case. To overcome racism, people need to think beyond such
    convenient labeling, realize that everyone can be racist, and everyone can be a
    victim of racism. This is more obvious to those of us who have lived in
    non-white countries (I lived in small cities in China for nearly 5 years) and could
    observe the local, non-white varieties of racism and classism at work. The infamous
    Japanese murder and rape of Chinese in Nanjing wasn’t
    perpetrated by white males, nor was the class system in India, or the genocide in Rwanda.

    As long as we have some convenient bad guy, such as the
    white male, we are still creating “others” based on their DNA. It’s
    about time people scrap that kind of thinking and look at people on an
    individual basis, and let their actions and beliefs define them more than their
    skin color. I’m annoyed by the photograph, probably the art, and the article as
    well. They all seem to believe in some innately inferior other.

  • thewaskwy1

    something is not “racist” simply because it shows a person of color in a position perceived to be subordinate to a person of lighter color. reducing people to the color of their skin IS “racist” – it’s reductionist and patronizing. no one has been injured by this piece of art, except the delicate sensibilities of some people who just aren’t comfortable with the subject matter, which is fetishism. no women of any color were “injured” or “victimized” in the making of this artwork or the photograph in which it was utilized. tedious hyperbole passing as intellectual discussion and opinion.

  • Shanzer 37

    How? Firstly nudity is necessarily objectification Manet’s Olympia to Ingre’s Odalisque. But one can’t argue art as well as all media has been designed for the male gaze almost exclusively. So while nudity and even objectification aren’t inherently bad applying them to one gender in particular results in a society that view women as objective and men as subjective. It’s why hoards of women don’t comment on wether or not Mitt Romney is or isn’t attractive but you finds pages and pages of vitriol on Hillary Clintons sexual value. The imbalance is toxic. Even your avatar while you could try to postulate look she has guns she must be powerful. But the ass out over shoulder would look absurd because men are who they are and women are only as value as a sexual commodity.

Previous post:

Next post: