HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN?, “Good Stock on the Dimension Floor: An Opera, 2014” (still), video, color, sound, 54 min (collection of the artists, © HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN?, via

The Yams Collective, the largest of the eight collectives participating in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, has withdrawn over objections to the curatorial program, Hyperallergic has learned. The group, known in the Biennial as HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN?, was selected for inclusion by curator Michelle Grabner and presented a video piece titled “Good Stock on the Dimension Floor: An Opera.” They submitted their withdrawal to the Whitney yesterday, which Yams Collective member Maureen Catbagan said was driven by objections to the Biennial’s inclusion of Joe Scanlan’s “Donelle Woolford” piece, in which the white male Princeton professor hires black female actors to play the part of a fictional black artist named Donelle Woolford (the piece has been ongoing since 2005, according to the artist’s website).

“We felt that the representation of an established academic white man posing as a privileged African-American woman is problematic, even if he tries to hide it in an avatar’s mystique,” Catbagan said. “It kind of negates our presence there, our collaborative identity as representing the African diaspora.”

The piece has drawn objections from bloggers, artists, and activists, including a polemical critique by Eunsong Kim and Maya Isabella Mackrandilal publicly endorsed by another artist presenting at the Whitney Biennial, Pedro Vélez.

Catbagan stated that the group had reached out to Grabner over her inclusion of their work alongside Joe Scanlan’s and received what in her words was a “non-response.” The Whitney unsuccessfully attempted to mediate the situation, which culminated in the collective’s withdrawal yesterday.

Upon their inclusion in the Biennial, the New York Times profiled the group and its role in racial advocacy in the arts, interviewing the artist Sienna Shields, the collective’s instigator. “I’d go to art events, and I’d be the only black person in the room — here in New York. It was ridiculous: There’s all this vast talent. I thought of all the great people I’d known in my years in New York and I thought, ‘Let’s exert ourselves!’,” Shields told the Times.

An alternative screening of the film piece will take place on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of next week, “a big event which will show it in a more appropriate way,” Catbagan said.

The Whitney Museum has not yet responded to a request for comment; we will update this space if and when we hear back.

Update, 6:12pm EST: The Whitney has offered Hyperallergic this statement:

While we understand and respect the decision of HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN?, we support all the artists in the Biennial and the curatorial choices of the exhibition’s three curators. The Whitney Biennial has always been a site for debate — no matter how contentious or difficult — of the most important issues confronting our culture.

We have also obtained a note sent by Joe Scanlan to all of the artists participating in the Whitney Biennial. It reads:

Dear Siena [sic],

I’m sorry to hear that HOWDOYOUSAYYAMEINAFRICAN has chosen to remove it’s work from the Biennial due to your finding the work of Donelle Woolford objectionable. I understand that the project is provocative and controversial, and I respect everyone’s right to react as they see fit for their own mind, their own body, and their own politics.

I only want to say that the experiences I have had working on Donelle Woolford have been some of the most intellectually challenging and humanly rewarding experiences of my life, largely because it has required me to confront what I don’t know, come to grips with those limits, and work at pushing them, expanding them. Not only as a white male artist, but as a human being. That confrontation, that learning experience, continues even now as I consider the weight and force of your actions.

I doubt I could change your mind about Donelle Woolford. But had you been witness to the years of rehearsals and discussions that Jennifer Kidwell, Abigail Ramsay, and I have engaged in — including the performance we are touring for the Biennial — I believe you would have a very different sense of the interpersonal relations involved, and the shared commitment that makes the narrative possible.

all the best,

Joe Scanlan

Scanlan’s above email was in response to the following message sent by Sienna Shields to the same group — all participating Whitney Biennial artists — at 5:09pm Tuesday, May 13:

While HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? has appreciated the opportunity to screen the poem “Good Stock on the Dimension Floor” at the 2014 Whitney Biennial, we cannot, in good conscience, be further subjected to Michelle Grabner’s curatorial curriculum.  Its defacto endorsement by the Whitney Museum is both insulting and troubling.

We’re sure that we don’t need to explain how the notion of a black artist being “willed into existence” and the use of a black FEMALE body through which a WHITE male “artist” conceptually masturbates in the context of an art exhibition presents a troubling model of the BLACK body and of conceptual RAPE. The possibility of this figure somehow producing increased “representation” for black artists both furthers the reduction of black personhood and insults the very notion of representation as a political or collective engagement.

What we stand for—

The Our in


together and individually refuses to participate in a  fundamentally flawed curatorial process. We appreciate that the Whitney Museum has attempted to fashion an institutionally circumscribed bandaid.  However, this is a wound that deeply penetrates the surface of ourskin.

We hope that the next Biennial will truly reflect the American voice. We cannot be placed in the position of condoning the current one.

We are removing our work from the 2014 Whitney Biennial.


Update, 10:04pm EST: The Yams Collective has offered the following clarification with regard to the timing of their withdrawal ahead of the Biennial’s closure May 25:

We have had ongoing dialogue and discussions for several weeks regarding our concerns. Unfortunately, we feel the process wasn’t proactive enough and wasn’t producing results. While people may question our timing, our work was slated to begin showing in rotation today. To our critics who think this is convenient timing or a PR stunt, we say again, we’ve been discussing this for weeks. More important than the “game” of our collective is the larger issue of fair representation and exposure specially, when it concerns the very current question race within the cultural/artistic context. We did not create Danelle Wolford. But she exists and is institutionalized, so let us talk about it…

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.

215 replies on “Artist Collective Withdraws from Whitney Biennial [UPDATED]”

  1. I support lively, assertive critique but to withdraw in protest of another artist’s work is a cheap shot. It’s uncollegial. It’s contrary to the spirit of the competition and worst of all, it’s contrary to the spirit of art as a tool for political discourse. I understand why some people are incensed by Scanlan’s work, but if artists respond to a contested idea by firing off a press release and flouncing out of the room, than art is just decoration.

    1. I would argue that co-opting a black female identity as a successful white male artist is the cheap shot. And that “flouncing out of the room” was actually a courageous and probably difficult decision, considering this isn’t a room but the Whitney Biennial. Withdrawing from the exhibition is a better argument for art’s importance than staying in could ever have been.

          1. …well, she kind of does have a mind of her own. and what can be established is that donelle has been played by several actresses that the artist has deliberately and purposefully chosen for the body of work. Ive been checking out this discussion between the artist, his character donelle, and several other fb users about this particular work. very illuminating. so you might have a point that this ‘collaborater’ has some agency, just perhaps not the one you were aiming for.


          2. The mind does’t exist, except thru a shape shifter. How creepy can it get. Art bullshit aside.

      1. Not only could I not more agree, I think Arcadia’s post is an admirable and concise comment well-rooted in the best political sensibilities of historical feminst argument.
        That Scanlan would conflate the white male, himself, three black women being used to represent one black woman’s body, and his masturbation not only brings up what for the average North American would be a host of obvious issues, but salts myriad other long-festering open wounds. He roughly shoves aside those who have never been and still are not included in justifiable numbers in any art venue, much less the Whitney Biennial, and whose work would more ethically, morally, intellectually and empathically address the issues embedded in the bodies of women and women artists, in this instance particularly those of color, and presents work I think might more accurately be called The Entitled Male.
        Lastly, Joe Scanlan’s misspelling of Sienna Shields’s name seems not just a detail, in that habitual attention to detail often determines which art succeeds and which does not, but is telling and of a piece with the insensitive and insulting nature of his Woolford work.

        1. not only does he misspell the salutation, but also the name of the collective. it’s an embarrassing carelessness that only seems to confirm some of the root issues – to wit, lack of recognition for the agencies of persons (women) of colour…

    2. Looking at the specifics of Donelle Woolford (which is extremely important to this debate!!!!) the project is hacky and shallow. That’s the problem, it deals with race as a fun fact to post on an artists webpage. It is kind of a rape that feels casual. yuck. The problem is not white men making work about or discussing race, because it is something we all take part in, though whites are afforded a distance and aloofness to exercise when we choose. The problem is the artist exercising aloofness when making work of great consequence to other people. That, I think, is why it is disgusting. Who cares when HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? pulled out? It is a bold move, why not let artist say no to curators and museums when they want. Lord knows artists work around their schedules enough.

  2. I’m somewhat confused about the timing. Was it because the screening was only now? Any word on this?

    1. Hi Dushko,

      The Yams Collective just sent me the following clarification via text message, which I have appended to the post above but will reproduce here for the sake of convenience:

      “We have had ongoing dialogue and discussions for several weeks regarding our concerns. Unfortunately, we feel the process wasn’t proactive enough and wasn’t producing results. While people may question our timing, our work was slated to begin showing in rotation today. To our critics who think this is convenient timing or a PR stunt, we say again, we’ve been discussing this for weeks. More important than the “game” of our collective is the larger issue of fair representation and exposure specially, when it concerns the very current question race within the cultural/artistic context. We did not create Danelle Wolford. But she exists and is institutionalized, so let us talk about it…”

    1. Looks like the whining is being done by someone else. Don’t you just love projecting?

      “Boo hoo hoo…I’m not sure why getting my art jollies off of the master/slave model of exploitation of the brown female by a white man who ‘hires’ them as his ‘exhibit’ is bothersome to some. WAAHH!”

      Interesting that you find having an opinion of the the use of one’s identity/culture as whining.

      Personally, the whole advantage/disadvantage ratio is getting old and that’s why it’s in a state of chaos right now. We’re (brown people) correcting our collective course with diplomacy. That’s not going to feel comfortable to those who prefer the status quo’s advantages. There’ll be name calling, denials, and character assassinations by the current benefactors. You’re only fooling yourselves. We’re not swayed. Nope. Not a bit.

    2. The casual manipulation of a symbolic character of a racial minority with a long history of being the victim of identity theft is worth “whining” about.

  3. publicity stunt. if you are offended by the piece so much that it effects your decision to be in it, then they should have made that choice before it opened… thats degrading to the people who are actually offended and willing to stand up for their belief from day one

    1. Activism comes in many forms. Not just the obvious ones. We are all talking her aren’t we?

  4. How brave of them to wait until the Biennial was almost over. Great career move.

    1. This seems like the wrong part of this story to be cynical about.

      “Although the timing of the withdrawal may seem odd, with the Biennial closing May 25, Yams Collective has allegedly been attempting to resolve the issue for some time. Catbagan says her efforts to reach out to curator Michelle Grabner were met with a “non-response.” The failed attempt at mediation with the museum culminated in the collective withdrawing from the Biennial yesterday.” from Artnet.

    2. If they withdrew before the show began, nobody would know about it. The timing is perfect to make a political point AND use the Whit(n)ey for career advancement. Win/win.

      1. If they withdrew before the show opened they could have staged any number of actions to draw even more attention to the issue while the show was on and make a political point and use the Whitney for career advancement but that would have required them to get off their asses and actually do something other than complain. Armchair activists. Lazy/cynical.

        1. However, if they had withdrawn before the show opened they may very well have been dismissed as outsiders. Actually being included in the show and then walking out of it, I believe, draws more attention to their principled position than it otherwise would have garnered. Imagine being invited to the Oscar awards and giving a speech about the awful way blacks were/are portrayed in mainstream movies as opposed to refusing to show up and be heard. But then, you don’t seem particularly sympathetic to their cause.

          1. Now they’ll just be dismissed as poseurs and forgotten, meanwhile Scanlan gets more publicity.

          2. maybe calling it out was more important to them, than staying on the road to art stardom. Bundy/Sterling/Scanlan…wow, coming out of the woodworks aren’t they? Can’t wait for the next douche to step up to the plate…

          3. I don’t understand the apparent meanness of your position. It sounds like you aren’t able to appreciate or recognize a principled stance. You know, it is possible to act with integrity in the world. It is possible to make decisions that are based on an ethical calculus rather than a purely careerist one. I wonder whether it is that you aren’t able to make these sort of calculations and thereby presume that others are similarly unable.

    3. wonderful way to hide the bigger problem under the rug rather than deal with it as a culture…

  5. “I only want to say that the experiences I have had working on Donelle
    Woolford have been some of the most intellectually challenging and
    humanly rewarding experiences of my life…”

    Know what, asshole? Blackness doesn’t exist for your enlightenment. Just because you invented your own “magical negro” doesn’t mean the rest of us have to go along with your fresh bullshit.

      1. Itself. If you require a reason for other people’s existence, even if it’s to further your own enlightenment, you are an ass. hole.

      2. Black people. Duh. The curator easily could have given this spot to someone who was an ACTUAL black female artist rather than a white man masquerading as one.

    1. This is a totally absurd ad-hominem attack. What does “Blackness doesn’t exist for your enlightenment” even mean? Can something exist for the purpose of something else? Also, why “magical negro”?

      If the activists have been successful at anything, it is completely warping the message of Joe Scanlan to legitimize their platforms and give themselves purpose. It’s shady. It’s a stunt. It will be forgotten.

      1. Please explain “the message of Joe Scanlan.” I can’t wait to hear your take.

          1. Because you and chicken fingers over there would rather recite Joe’s and Michelle’s press release than actually defend Joe’s position with your own analysis. Please enlighten us dummies.

          2. Enlighten yourself. I haven’t read press releases from either, nor have I seen the work in question. What I do see in this conversation here and elsewhere is the same tired PC bullshit /college discourse that I’ve been hearing for years. And Joe coming off as pretty reasonable.

          3. Yeah you don’t need us PC whiners because in your perfect world people ACTUALLY get paid equally for their talent, all corporations ACTUALLY give their employees living wages and benefits. And there is no global warming.

          4. I don’t need PC bullshit, cause it has shown itself to be useless. In this case people are insisting a person cannot author a character that does not match themselves completely. All of fiction in history would die if this was the case.

            Yet, we have people claiming here that this character creation is the equivalent of ‘rape’ and the holocaust, and now it’s denying global warming and living wages.

            What a crock!

          5. Ok, now everyone get out their watermelon pickaninies and aunt Jemima’s because they are fictional and they are OK.

          6. But see… no one is presenting a critique of anything specific about the character he and the actors created. They are merely offended that he dared to create it, finding offense in some new arbitrary rule that authors aren’t allowed to create fictions.

            Don’t confuse the issue.

          7. Since we didn’t read as much as probably you did, can you elaborate Donelle as a character and her significance in the art world. Call it cliff notes for dummies.

          8. I’m sure we’ve all read the similar stuff, and just have come to different conclusions.

          9. Honey, I am far from PC, but I find even this offensive. But hey, this is a free country right? Even the KKK can have the last word.

        1. OR, let’s have Joe Scanlan’s work speak for itself: Joe Scanlan Self Portrait (Pay Dirt), 2003. Is it me or does this reference something?

      2. I would argue that the attack is not so much on the man, but on the strategy he employs. Of course, because Scanlan has employed this strategy, he is (rightly) subject to a good deal of purposeful critique.

        I think what vitaminC is getting at is (for example) very visible in typical mainstream Hollywood films from the 80s and 90s: in the case of movies like the Green Mile, Mississippi Burning, the black characters are essentially used as vehicles for the enlightenment, edification of the central, heroic white character, who often accepts the great sacrifice of the black character, who most often ends up dead, and gets to move on with his life with a more elevated or sensitive conscience. Moral: black people are only good for helping you come to ethical clarity, after that job is done, we don’t need them.

        Several theorists and writers have discussed this Magical Negro character. You might start here: Nelson George I think has some insightful things to say about this.

        The point is that the group that withdrew is arguing that Scanlan in essentially re-presenting another version of the magical negro, and they cannot in good conscience participate in the Biennial alongside it.

  6. Scanlan frames the issue as the collective finding “the work of Donelle Woolford objectionable,” but then credits himself for his work “on” Donelle Woolford. He sounds more than a little confused.
    He also claims (in his Bomb Magazine interview) that you don’t have to have an experience in order to make art about it. But then why hide behind a fictional persona to make art from that perspective? Maybe to mask the lack of understanding of that perspective? And the work he’s passing off as Woolford’s could be by anyone, it doesn’t specifically present a black point of view or narrative. How could it? The nature of the work just does not justify the elaborate charade of complicating the authorship.

  7. I saw the performance in Oakland and was disgusted by the way he stood in the back of the room with a clipboard mouthing every word of the routine and laughing at all of the self deprecating Richard Pryor jokes. It was like a twisted form of privileged puppetry and for what? In San Francisco it was never revealed that he was behind it all and in Oakland it was called out. And he acted so nonchalant about it, like “I just assumed most people knew”.

  8. Scanlan has a history of using Black female students for his projects. Having an intellectually stimulating conversation differs from practice. The Vatican validated the extermination of the Jews and Muslims, African slavery through their intellectual banter. Wrong is wrong and the Whitney Museum curators need to acknowledge this.

    1. Yeah, I guess if the piece can be referred to as ‘rape’, then let the floodgates open and bring out the holocaust references. That’s not overblown at all.

    1. This comment is absurd for a number of reasons, but the most obvious would be that a work like this isn’t making Mr. Scanlan rich.

        1. Well, it’s making YAMs famous. It’s a fairly pointless point to make, I think.

  9. >>we don’t need to explain how the notion of a black artist being “willed into existence” and the use of a black FEMALE body through which a WHITE male “artist” conceptually masturbates in the context of an art exhibition presents a troubling model of the BLACK body and of conceptual RAPE. <<

    The thing that gets me about this is that HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? doesn't offer a critique. This whole paragraph is just talking shit that doesn't make any sense. Artists are in-fact allowed to change genders and races and whatever. Hello.

    After that they say that the piece does not increase representation for black artists. OK. did the Whitney say it did? I guess that would be true, but then again is the black woman performer in this piece not an artist?

    I don't see much actually being said here.

    1. if you consider hired help to be artists, sure! and if you consider a white man playing with his black barbies as the best art can offer today, go for it!

      1. Well, I know the actors involved consider themselves artists. I think it’s insulting to them and really cynical to call them ‘black barbies’. The work doesn’t have to be ‘the best the art world has to offer’ to be legitimate.

        1. Funny, I don’t see them included as “artists” in the Whitney Biennial, because that would have definitely made the show more “diverse.”
          And this IS the Whitney Biennial we are talking about right? A spot ANY artist would kill for.

          1. I don’t believe that it is a secret that they are involved in the work. Scanlan credits them and talks about them as collaborators in all the stuff that I’m reading.

          2. They were in small type getting bigger now because he needs to hide behind them again.

          3. That’s a very very cynical reading of the situation. Don’t based on any insider info or anything that you actually know to be true about it, I’m betting.

          4. Let’s see both a Harvard and Yale professor, has a performance touring schedule in conjunction with the Whitney on top of previous shows within the last 7 years…I would say he is doing pretty well compared to say 90% of artists out there. And I don’t see Jennifer Kidwell or Abigail Ramsay chiming in the thread that Joe Scanlan is in as he explains his art (other than as Donelle Woolford, because they could step out of character and explain their collaborative process on their own right?)


  10. “we don’t need to explain how the notion of a black artist being “willed into existence” and the use of a black FEMALE body through which a WHITE male “artist” conceptually masturbates in the context of an art exhibition presents a troubling model of the BLACK body and of conceptual RAPE.”

    We would appreciate a better explanation. Why is Joe Scanlan’s project considered to be controlling? What is the actual consequence of his being white?

    Please explain in clear language the concepts of “conceptual masturbation” and /or “conceptual rape”?

    We would also ask, respectfully — “is the black woman performer in this piece not an artist?”

    Is the intention of the work to offend its audience? Is the audience both “actually offended” and “conceptually offended”? –

    1. Conceptual masturbation – Getting one’s jollies off of a power trip at the expense of others.

      Conceptual rape – Taking liberties that are presented as acceptable, when it is indeed shameful.

      Some audiences enjoy the absurd if the art mimics their symbolic understanding of a given topic. That doesn’t make artists of integrity proud to perpetuate it, although some artists don’t have that luxury (bills to pay).

      It all seemed pretty clear to me. Hope my translation helped your understanding. Oh and to sum it up in 1 word. Exploitive.

      1. I think it’s gross to assume the black women working on this piece have no agency, and are being exploited. They certainly don’t feel that’s the case.

        ‘Conceptual Rape’ is a term without meaning. It’s a derogatory term meant to shame the artist.

        1. Let’s see, am I going to tell my boss who gives my paycheck that I am being exploited if its a good resume builder, probably not. Also, applies to unpaid interns.

          1. He’s been doing this piece for 7 years. I doubt he or anyone is making much money from it. Still your argument is that these black actors, who are collaborators in the piece don’t have agency. That just isn’t convincing to me.

          2. One would think after 7 years of artistic collaboration his actors would not leave him out to fry in the heat of the PC sun. They have an equal artistic stake and credit in this project no?

          3. Uh… I’m not convinced that they haven’t. I saw another thread where I think one of them was. But, really the work doesn’t need defending. I would never get up and defend my own work against PC reactionaries. The work stands on it’s own. Scanlan himself has been really gracious about talking to people, I think.

          4. Can you send that thread? I am dying to know what she said. I hope that the actors could be more vocal specially now when their project is on the line.
            And I have to hand it to the PC reactionaries for behaving themselves in the feed as they are asking him questions to try to understand his position, because they really want to believe he’s not what he blatantly seems to be.

          5. It’s on FB.

            “… because they really want to believe he’s not what he blatantly seems to be.”

            I don’t see that at all. I think he’s been prejudged. Most everyone talking all this shit hasn’t even seen the work. That said, there are some thoughtful comments floating around.

  11. I am representing all artists with brown eyes and considering having a proxy with blue eyes as an artist in my stead. Then the artist with blue eyes will hire a succession of various actor / artist / proxies with (heterochromia) – and they will help me to better understand their experience. I will do this in all sincerity.

  12. I am also considering hiring an artist / actor proxy who understands irony to act in my stead so that I might better understand irony. At some point in this “liminal” process the artist proxy who understands irony will hire another artist / actor proxy in his stead who absolutely does not understand irony to explain his experiences of irony to me ad infinitum. Eventually we will execute a similar project around the core concepts of basic reading and math. Of course, raising such questions even to myself – may be off limits. Especially if I, or someone else who is not myself, says so.

  13. Applause. This is a BOLD move that puts the lack of dialogue about Scanlan as the subject. Joe, you might be off the hook, but the art world not talking about you is now the focus. And, frankly, they already got the NY Times promo article so they got the most this cruddy Biennial can give any artist so why not be BOLD.

  14. Even in the face of objections by the very body of artists (HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN?), upon which he ‘symbolically'(?) immolates in his vile piece, he arrogantly and paternalistically asserts his ‘white privilege’ by cloaking his racism in some universal, oxymoronic notion of “coming to grips”(?) with “what I don’t know”(?) as a “white man”; as if we, who are struggling against the very self-centered racial arrogance he discloses in his reply, could really give a damn! He is the worse kind of racist–the wolf who wears the skin of his consumed victim (the fictional ‘Donelle Woolford’) to entice Ms. Red Riding Hood into coming closer to see “what really big teeth” he has!

  15. I’m happy to see a “white” artist “problematize” race grandstanding in the art world. Let the self-righteous, self-appointed adjudicators of “correct” expression do their blustering and reinforce the status quo. At least in order for some of us to question it once again.

    1. This is the attitude that makes the privileged somehow feel “victimized” by others being handed the microphone every once in a while. Looking at overall numbers in museums and galleries, spots for whites and/or male voices are still completely safe and entrenched. It’s like you and I are looking at completely different alternate realities when we use the word “status quo”. I’d dare say that yours is a cognitive distortion.

      1. Well, starting off by inserting a concept of victimization into my commentary is a good way to distort at the outset, prior to any self-appointed adjudicating the ethical implications of whatever it is you’ve meant by “numbers” (which is also treated with remarkable thoughtlessness by people uninvolved with museum curating, given that museum directors know that artists of color or gender do not want to be purchased or curated based upon “color” or “gender” – the MoMA will tell you this – rather than the merits of their own work; I suggest looking into that before tossing out “numbers” without any attempt at analysis that might offer meaning to them).

        So, yeah, I like to see this kind of blustering and grand-standing barbed. I’ve got no stake in the game so I benefit nothing from whatever is made of this – my work has never been exhibited because I occupied a “white man slot” – but nor does anyone else really. And I don’t go see artists who fill slots because if that’s what they did they’d not be worth seeing.

        1. Because all minorities do is throw the race card around when they are not getting what they want, or good forbid want an equal assessment of their work. Because Joe Scanlan as Donelle Woolford has such weight, richness, and complexity to contribute to contemporary visual arts as to enrich our understanding and possibilty of having avatars without consequence. He should definitely be added in the artistic canon.

          1. So, twice, we have victimization being attributed what I write. I guess the answer to that is to stop writing, even for the sake of clarity.

          2. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend the institutional higher ups by posing a question. My bad, your right, I am not a curator. I don’t know art nor do have the extensive scholarship/credentials to back it up, so I shouldn’t even begin to ask….

          3. I am not a higher up. I am just repeating what a (female) curator at the MoMA, a favorite target for shaming, has told people who ask questions such as yours. I doubt you will offend her by asking it again. Let’s pretend there are “black” slots for artists. I suggest offense would be provoked by asking a black artist to fill it. Lots of artists, women and other minorities, actually get pressured to make identity politics-based art if they are working in “white man” modes, such as abstract painting. Especially in graduate school. Kara Walker was shamed for being an abstract painter. I suggest reading the recent article in ArtForum called “Statement of Intent,” about the work of Jacqueline Humphries, Laura Owens, Amy Sillman, and Charlene Von Heyl. Similar themes there.

          4. So I guess that’s the company line. Yes, minorities and women don’t want to be judged based solely on their hue and gender. We are not asking for favors based on eugenics. We are asking for rigor and vigilance from the credited artistic intellectuals who are suppose to guide/educate us in what we are looking at as art.

          5. You can call it the company line.

            Or you call it the reason my acquaintance, who is African-American and a talented painter, declined to be on Jerry Saltz’s TV show “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.” Take it as a loss to the PC shame game that he didn’t want to be “the black artist” you’re wanting to see.

            Maybe “credited artistic intellectuals” are doing exactly what you want them to do, but not everyone wants in on it.

          6. Please re-read my comment, I am not endorsing tokenism. I am asking curators and institutions to be more vigilant in combining contemporary art theory and its relationship to the artist and the world that we live in, as isn’t art supposed to show to us how we negotiate our lived experiences? And how does that happen on a higher level when other things that are related to it are not considered. We don’t live in a vacuum.

          7. Your comment: “We are asking for rigor and vigilance from the credited artistic intellectuals who are suppose to guide/educate us in what we are looking at as art.”

            The claim is couched in too many abstract generalities to agree or disagree with, however many times it is read. So I don’t really agree or disagree.

          8. I am not trying to win one over you. Take it as you will. We are here to ask questions…

          9. “I am asking curators and institutions to be more vigilant in combining contemporary art theory and its relationship to the artist and the world that we live in…”

            It’s statements like these I think are essentially contentless, given that I don’t know of any way to measure (or even casually identify) any general abdication of the curatorial responsibilities you cite. There may be a way to meaningfully reveal what you say is there but I can’t imagine it and you haven’t given it. If we take grant-giving as some crude approximation of what curators are interested in showing and theorists are interested in discussing, even a cursory glance and the race and gender related criteria for qualification of these grants show your claims to be demonstrably false.

          10. So is the implication are that grants have tokenist criteria, but then the MoMa does not choose/categorize artists based on race and gender?
            There seems to be a conflict of institutional policies/practices here. Ahh, the plot thickens…

          11. My line of questioning is not meant to disqualify the work of curators/institutions/artists or their legacy, as they are important in framing what we understand as art, but it is also important to be aware of the blindspots in our ambition to crown the new great artist.

          12. Some female painters, especially when getting their education in the 80s and 90s, were pressured away from abstract painting, and painting altogether, because it was seen as the domain of DWM (dead white males). Pollock’s work would be referred to as masturbatory and his paint style as ejaculatory, for example.

          13. Chicken Fingers, I would love to read more about this issue of painters being pressured away from DWM work. Source?

          14. To guest: Perhaps, if you would learn how to empathize with others, who’s experience is different than yours, you will learn how to be, and sound, more compassionate and understanding. Throwing around words, like ‘race card’ and ascribing it to a whole group of people, you know nothing about, is The Quintessential Definition of Racism!

          15. ps. I am a minority woman, but I don’t want others to dismiss us with the race card just because we decided to speak up. The question of race (black vs. white), tokenism/opportunism is often reduced to dialectics of opposition, when the problem here is certainly more complex and interellated. Perhaps, we should go back to the basic question that everyone is familiar with…What makes it art?

          16. The privileged ones. Two Ivy Leagues and Museum and it took some YAMS to call out the Emperor’s Clothes.

        2. It’s rather challenging, if not difficult, for a racist to see racism in others if he denies it in himself. Perhaps, if you would accept this as a challenge to ‘fix’ yourself, before posting such nonsense here, or elsewhere, thinking people will take you more seriously.

          1. [If I had a link to a gif of someone rolling their eyes, I would put it here.]

          2. Nice ad hominem!

            Let me see if this is right: If I do not think I am a racist, I am a racist. If I do think I am a racist, I am a racist. Either way, you’ve contrived a great conversation stopper there, even by virtue of accusations of racism itself.

            I can’t think of a cheaper, more self-righteous gimmick one could stuff into a comment box than that, nor a level of mindlessness that would mistake it for insight. You are offering this rhetorical sludge to someone whose primary medical doctor of nine years is a black woman in Jersey City, but you wouldn’t know that since you don’t know who you’re shotgunning these stupid remarks on racism to. Consider it a ‘win’ that you even got that amount of information out of me with your shameless race baiting. You’ve got your +1 now, so GFY with it.

            As for my support for the artist’s work, it’s almost verbatim what Michelle Grabner, the curator, said of it. She’s not taking any bait, though.

          3. Is that you Cliven Bundy? Showing off that your doctor is black. Good for you. Any other minorities you are collecting?

            PS. Nice that you have your own words to say instead of towing the art company line again.

          4. Your bait is worse than what I already ate. But to recap:

            1. Accuse someone of being a racist.
            2. Call volunteered counterexamples “showing off.”
            3. Repeat ad hominem.
            4. Look like an asshole.

          5. Feels good to expose someone offering offense instead of argument, because pricks like that usually get away with it.

          6. Refer to my last two comments ad infinitum. They’re sufficient responses to what you’ve reduced this trivial exchange to. Take care.

        3. You’ve got no stake in the game? Talking about your work indicates otherwise. Anyhow, your use of the word “status quo” somehow suggests that the biennial is overflowing with race discussion and political correctness. The plain fact of demographics in this year’s biennial indicates otherwise.

          What you’re saying about female- and race-oriented work is an old discussion. Of course artists don’t want to be forced into an essentialist position on race or gender. Totally agree with the position of Von Heyl, Sillman and Owens. This is a very different discussion from the AMOUNT of female or colored artists who have visibility in a very subjective field that has long been dominated by men. You are calling women & minorities the “status quo” — when they are clearly not.

          Look at the underlying attitude of your original post: “Thank GOD a white male from Princeton is swooping in to knock some sense into those who support a bit of equal representation — that will really stick it to the establishment!” As if he’s the battle-scarred punk rock underdog in the story.

          Please. Either you are being highly disingenuous or willfully obtuse. And there is no arguing with either. This is the last thing I have to say.

          1. Nope, no stake in the game. I left my gallery five years ago and haven’t show my work since. The market is vulgar and so are careerists.

            Now, I suggest quoting me – actual quotes from what I actually wrote – if you want to discuss my position. But indeed you don’t and never did, hence all the fake Freudianism you subjected to your fake quotes, offered on my behalf – without even a hint of irony – before delivering to me accusations of disingenuous and willfully obtuse behavior. Nice rhetorical judo, Judo Traveler. Travel on, now.

  16. Bravo. It’s good to finally have attention drawn to the elephant in the room. Although I don’t really understand what their exchanges with Grabner were seeking as the end result. To have Scanlan’s work pulled from the show? An apology? I’d like more information on that. It’s too bad they withdrew, but I don’t see any other way the issue would get this kind of attention.

    I can’t help but see Scanlan’s work as a cynical attempt that is more egregious than most. How does a white male artist achieve the best of both worlds? Invent your own way to put words in the mouth of an oppressed minority! Wear their struggle like a coat. It’s shameful that the curators bought into the pseudo-thought-provoking line about his work. They are as much to blame for its inclusion as the artist.

  17. Who cares if a white man expresses himself as a black woman with his art. Sienna needs to climb off Chuck Close’s wheelchair and take a good look in the mirror. She doesn’t deserve this attention or to be in the Whitney Biennial when there are so many other more deserving black artists who didn’t have to marry a rich disabled white man to gain their success.

    1. As if the Yams only consisted of Sienna and not 37 other artists?! Because the others don’t count. Just illegitimize the obvious one. Bravo! Belittling and dismissing as rebuttals as really trumps well thought arguments/questions! Bring it on!

  18. The Curators are complicit in this Fraud. Curators as middlemen, has been a problem for me as an artist for a long time now. The actual creators of the Art has been reduced to puppets. Like the Black women that was hired to mime the Performance. Get the chain of command here? Why have Artists given over their Creative Powers, to these middlemen?

  19. I think the reason we cant get no respect anymore is because were looking too much at others when we really need to look inside of ourselves to find out the bottom of the truth in life take my nephew for example……… darryl

  20. Seems few have understood the art in question (and esp considering the irony of Yams’ title).
    The elitism is wrapped as racial, but is it more about capitalist art mechanics?
    Look harder, people.
    Only those who refuse to See could conclude that its more offensive than the subject it has raised.

    1. There seems to be a blanket of irony covering the intellectual landscape. It’s comforting yet distracting.
      But you do bring up another piece to the puzzle that is also equally important.
      Please elaborate.

  21. To add further context for anyone who doesn’t “get it”, if you visit Joe’s site there’s a lengthy archive of his work. It’s composed of photos of his installations, text, posters, some essays..essentially objects that he created. and right up there, within that listing of objects he created is Ms. Woolford – fictional black woman.

    By looking through the archive I believe Ms.Woolford is the only human being that holds the honor of being created by this white male Princeton educator.
    But why? Through reading the back story of his motivations surrounding the “piece”, the answer is simple: because he could.

    Considering the lack of non fictional Black Women artists that are actually shown at the Whitney, it seems odd that a curator would say including this make believe one was of the most “humanly rewarding experiences” he had the opportunity to work..with? for? ..ON?

    It’s also not lost on me that Joe has pictures of himself in black face in one of his installations. It’s completely out of context and pointless. Needless to say it’s clear the man has some rather obvious issues surrounding his..relationship..with Black America.

    Which, ironically, would have been a more interesting and honest approach.

      1. Someone needs to be schooled on their context. A white man trying to present himself as a black woman artist is the current version of Bojangles dancing for your viewing pleasure. Not a problem.

        1. I think it’s merely creating a character. I’m schooled, dear. I just went to a different school.

          1. So is Mary Tyler Moore, and Omar from the Wire. And?

            Creating a character is foundational to art practice for thousands of years.

          2. If you want talk about the mis-representation of black people on Television by writers who seek to objectify black people’s stories – that’s a direction we can go in too. Indeed, the fact that we are talking about a group of black artists standing in their truth and you offered drug dealing, homosexual, convict and murderer, from the bowels of Baltimore Omar as a tidbit of white people writing blacks into the conversation should tell you something.

            White people want to understand black people. They just don’t want to have to listen to their perspective.

          3. Omar is a great character, from a show that is probably one of the greatest that ever made it onto television. Played by an amazing actor.

            That you are over-concerned with the depiction of black people as homosexuals (oh no!), convicts, drug associates, etc… reveals how bourgeois your argument is. We can’t all be Michelle Obama, or whatever other personality you feel is pure enough for depiction.

          4. ahhhh, the “uppity negro” argument. .. Classic.

            Anyway, your inability to not speak to the issue without inter webbing fictional black characters with real ones exposes just how much you don’t get it.

            “fake blacks, real blacks – whatever! The wire is great!!!”

          5. “White people want to understand black people. They just don’t want to have to listen to their perspective.”

            I always enjoy it when folks attempt to make a point about “misrepresentation” by ascribing motives to entire races of people.

            It’s amusing.

  22. Yams Collective takes a risk in moving things along toward a better society. Nothing wrong with doing that.

    “The Whitney Counterweight’s 2014 ongoing dialogue with the Whitney Biennial”

    We crushed the Whitney 3 times in the past in 1977, 1979 & 1981 when our Whitney Counterweight was headquartered in SoHo a long time ago – so then said all the art media in NYC. We also had in the past about half men to women & many minority artists.

    “It’s time for artists to regain the territory they relinquished to the system — where they’ve mostly become mere replaceable cogs producing indifferent art for market. A primary issue will be the issue of quality over quantity & what that means in terms of new thinking, feeling & drive in moving things forward toward a more meaningful art world capable of creating positive change.

    Our 1977 Whitney Counterweight Manifesto sounds as good today – more than ever:

    “It is the belief of the Whitney Counterweight that artists should be, realistically, responsible & adequately equipped to initiate change, redefine and liberate new movements in the world in which we are one of the working forces. We artist’s are our own gatekeepers and it is from us, not the anterooms of creation, that new visions and new movements arise”…. “American art by definition includes several aesthetic realities, several cultural realities and a broad geographical representation. We are responsible for our times”.

    And we did it again in our 2014 in dialogue with this Whitney Biennial with our Whitney Counterweight 2014, once again getting it right in totally fresh ways, even a 2014 symposium held last month at downtown NY Law School — although the video’s not yet released.

    Bill Rabinovitch curated the 2014 Whitney Counterweight entirely from work posted by artists to Facebook, & feels this makes the 2014 Counterweight contemporary with our times, and consistent with how artists now present work. This year in addition to the art & new ideas for this radical Internet based survey — there’s been video, cutting edge new media, and poetry.

    Bill says, “Whitney Counterweight 2014 is totally internet based, strictly an invitation show — about both art & ideas — the ideas big — the artists formidable, exciting & compelling… & predicting it will again be successful solidly vanquishing the Whitney Biennial as in the past, but this time with new agendas.

    See Statement & History & Artist’s page besides & link to a 1981 video documentary of ours by Brooklyn College lost ever since but now just found in an old box & now on Youtube and linked on the Whitney Counterweight site.

    Bill Rabinovitch

  23. art is free of ideology. i’m sorry but your political correctness / affirmative action means nothing in art. art deals with racism non-ideologically. that’s the total power of art.

    1. Then why hide behind a fake black woman? We didn’t bring race relations on the table Scanlan’s work did. And the fact that Donelle is displayed prominently in an important art museum when there are other artists who have more compelling work IS the problem. BTW congratulations to Zoe Leonard. Your work is deserves to win the award.

  24. How is Scanlan’s project not a 21st version of blackface? Blackface is a) makeup used by a nonblack performer playing a black role and b) used to imply patronization of blacks by whites or by institutions perceived to be insincerely or ineffectively nonracist.

    1. Blackface is something really specific. Creating characters is something that artists have done for thousands of years.

      1. Blackface implies patronization of blacks by whites, perceived to be insincerely or ineffectively nonracist.

        1. Which has nothing to do with casting black actors in a piece which is another matter entirely.

          1. Ha! You people are shameless. Tell that to all the black actors! Tell it to their black faces. I dare you!

          2. The person who created this project (Scanlan) is not black. He employed black actors and I have no problem telling them (and you) about the history. We can start with Bert Williams who was an African American actor in the early 20th century and was forced to wear blackface. Blackface performers only emphasized blackness by recourse to burnt cork; after all, Williams did not really need the burnt cork to be black. Scalan is using black faces in his work, too. He is part of a long-standing tradition (e.g. Amos & Andy).

          3. That’s just words.

            Scanlan’s work isn’t blackface merely because other people used blackface in the past.

            You can tell me the history (which I’m already aware of, and don’t need to be told what to think about it, thank you very much) all you want, but it doesn’t help the conversation as much as it’s a way for you to grandstand about some moral purity that you think you have.

            I’m not interested in purity.

          4. You can understand a history or surface of things but not the cultural and social implications which are DEEP. Sorry, you’re words are not helpful. Peace!

          5. ‘Peace!’, is that like that hypocrisy thing christians do when they say ‘gawd bless you’ to non-believers, but what they really mean is “fu*k you, fa*got!”?

            I understand plenty, I’m just not as rigid as you.

          6. Racism is real. White supremacy is real. Your heterosexism is definitely real, and PC bullshit like the self important criticism of Scanlan and Co’s work seen in this thread is also, unfortunately, real.

          7. Reverse racism, heterosexism, PC reactionism…sigh
            They can dish out for so long, but looks like they can’t take it….

  25. 05-16-14

    My Offer to Yams Over “The Yams Collective” Pulling out of the Whitney Biennial 05-15-14 — My Whitney Counterweight’s 2014 Ongoing Response to the Whitney Biennial.

    Our Whitney Counterweight’s of the past had about half men to women & many minority artists. Because of it & higher quality & freshness of our art & being live in physical spaces — we crushed the Whitney Biennial 3 times in the past in 1977, 1979 & 1981 when headquartered in SoHo a long time ago – so then said all the art media in NYC.

    The lack of minority artist’s & diversity in the Whitney Biennial’s is the issue with Yams & others. Minorities are admittedly less then should in my Whitney Counterweight 2014 but for good reason. I curated it all on my own, no budget — zero – only 2 weeks for pulling it together from my decision to Go. For me the priorities/issues focussed on this year were different — concerned with all Facebook artists (90% not known to me in real life) in this all internet version but lasting forever— but most I thought sensitive to crucial issues of global warming even if not their subject matter. Pulling together 50 artists even with critic artists of moral courage, imagination & major talent in 2 weeks a miracle as each needing attention. There was no institutional thinking, no regrouping – or rethinking— just moving ahead — & believe I delivered on my promises damn well — even a symposium at the NY Law School. The point, artists can do stuff like this that will get noticed & make a difference toward a better society.

    Despite not fully measuring up in mine about minorities this year — even though having some — I don’t let the Whitney off the hook — as these are contentious issues the Whitney’s utterly failed at yet again, worse than ever before, especially after the current pulling out of Yams Collective. It suggests the Whitney’s not thinking correctly. Institutional thinking remains dominated by other huge corporations & the others lack of ethics/immoralities are contributing heavily to accelerating global warming & the certainty of worse calamities than Sandy — if we don’t fast wake up.

    I hereby invite the Yams Collective to be part of the The Whitney Counterweight 2014 — even at this late date — even if they ignore my offer considering my poor excuses above — as I find their resolve taking a major risk toward achieving a better society inspiring.

    Please do read our Statement & History page.

    Bill Rabinovitch

  26. 100% up their own asses. A perfect opportunity to counter what they say is “cultural rape,” but instead they withdraw. Just silly.

    1. Oh ‘withdrawing’ is not a f* you to the whole system of structures that allow this to happen. Sounds quite silly doesn’t it?

  27. I was equally offended when the Wayan brothers portrayed white girls in the movie “White Chicks”.

    1. I think we are all smart enough to tell the difference between what is considered comedy and what is considered academic artistic culture. Context is everything.

  28. Horton the Elephant here, withdrawing my character from Dr. Seuss’s books, on the grounds that, not being an elephant himself, and one who falls in line behind the stereotype we have formed for ourselves , he shouldn’t be sanctioned for having the imagination of an artist or writer. I, Horton the Elephant, fall in line behind the Yams collective in stridently screeching (and bringing with me all those who follow bandwagons) that no one who doesn’t belong to the cliched identities of a group can create a character that bears any of its other characteristics.

    1. Wow, so what your elephant story is inferring is how dare POC speak up for themselves, they should just quit whining and sit in the back of the bus, because they are lucky that they were allowed to sit there in the first place…Note taken we’ll shut up now

      1. And funny that we are fighting against fictional characters here instead of the wonderful wizards hiding behind the curtain…

      1. It’s not what they did that’s a gimmick, it’s the idea of a “collective” in the art world today. It’s so much easier to be a travelling group show with ideas coming from a set of members then to stand alone with only your work to back you up. Strength in numbers I suppose, but it seems to me it’s an easy way to increase your popularity and audience without having to create as a solitary voice.

        1. I think your viewpoint is a little myopic. Collectives aren’t conceptualized based on fear, popularity, or for individual promotion but a communal effort to change the art/cultural landscape. And they have ie. Dada, Bauhaus, Surrealism, Fluxus, Arte Povera, Bruce High Quality…the list goes on. The individuals that are part of each collective certainly don’t lose their distinction as important artists in their own right (Dali, Macunias, Yoko Ono etc.). Although there maybe one or two catalysts, revolution and change can only occur through a combined effort.

          1. I understand your point historically, but it seems that today it is more of a business move than to change the cultural landscape. Perhaps I’m jaded, but every time I read about a new group from Redhook with matching beards and wire rims, my stomach turns.

          2. “Hipster” is often used these days as a generic dismissive term for trend following media absorbed youth. I purposely included Bruce High Quality in the list above as a current example of the collective spirit. They have subverted singular authorship hence the removal of hipster self promotion to introduce alternative forms of practice and exhibition (ie. the Bruceannial). And like Bauhaus they even have their own form of art education. Subversive collectives are alive and well my friend as the momentum of institutional protests continues…

          3. A few “Bruces” profit from the work from a lot of “Bruces” who are forced to be faceless and nameless so in reality they mimic a corporate structure. Not sure how that is subversive.

          4. No one is “forced” to be in a collective. They either agree with the mission/aesthetics and choose to participate or not. Again, I doubt that a corporate structure would condone a free school. And I’m not sure where you are getting the information that a “few” Bruces are selling off others works as theirs? Please clarify if you have inside information.

          5. There are a few Bruces (all male), who drive the group and receive the money when the work is sold, etc. The others are just ad hoc members that change and include men and women. I was making a comparison to a corporate structure where owners benefit from the faceless labor of others. I just don’t see the radicality in that. I love the school, but I’m not sure it is any different from the educational programming at any other arts nonprofit.

          6. If they are making money I don’t think it is equivalent to one rising art star. Should artists just completely freely give away their pieces/conceptions without any form of compensation? They shouldn’t be able to live off their art work as that is corporate thinking? So where else are they going to get money to eat? I think their attempt to democratize the art world and try to move it away from it’s market driven structure is a novel and noble idea. I wish that art institutions could see this as an example of a way to move towards equilibrium.

          7. I don’t see where you are seeing the democracy. Using other people’s labor to profit has nothing to do with democracy. And no one is saying artists who not profit from their work, but other people’s work, that’s a different story. There is no move away from a market driven structure, in fact they also exploit labor movements and have bronzed a protest rat, which they sold to a Park Avenue collection. I think we share many of the same ideals but all I am saying is that I don’t think BHQF exemplifies that.

          8. Again, their mission is not exploitation but the blurring of authorship. Do we have individual Bruce’s names that are art stars at the expense of other collaborators? I would like to hear from “anonymous” Bruces who have participated. Do they feel exploited or has their artistic integrity been taken away from them? I cannot answer these questions accurately as I have not participated. If a bronzed rat, which is a very active symbol of protest, is coopted in the art market, then all the better. Also, if the top Bruces are white males, that’s amazing because they seem to understand the problematics of institutional privilege and are willing to address it. They may not be ideal, but it is a step in the right direction.
            I also think that semantics get in the way of addressing the core of what is at stake. Perhaps, “white” privilege is the wrong emphasis because it is a term highly susceptible to misunderstandings. How the argument should be more accurately stated is how does institutional practice equalize visibility when access favors the dominant culture?

          9. I don’t understand why coopting a symbol of protest is a good thing for monetary gain. I’m getting the feeling this is simply an intellectual exercise for you. These symbols have power that pact people’s lives.

          10. The art market coopted a symbol of protest because that’s the way art markets run. Make money from artists. Dead ones are better because the art dealers get all the cut.
            Would it be better if they stood in the barricades and protest in the status quo way? Because then protesting is easily contained. An inflatable rat calling out institutions outside can easily be covered. A bronzed one used as a symbol of commerce is harder to ignore. Outsiders of the system don’t get quite the voice and access as insiders do. Rebelling from within, however subtle or inflammatory brings up the issue at stake. People can throw all the tangents and red herrings they want. We will not let this go away or be swept under the rug anymore. This issue impacts all artists that have to deal with the structure of art in institutions and commerce.

          11. Again, this is art commerce playing it’s game. Are we gonna keep throwing red herrings and detracting from the issue here? I like the INTENT of BHQ’s mission. What happens when the art world commerce gets its hand on it, is arbitrary. Just like what art commerce did to Basquiat.

          12. I did like it when they went around throwing themselves against public sculpture but they were always a bit preachy for me. Its good to have all types of voices in art. I’m just skeptical of “collectives”…but your points are well taken.
            Not to set you off, but social sculpture is another term that has taken on a life of it’s own. Where I am living, there was a woman who ran for county council and considered that act, along with all promotional material, social sculpture. Where is the “sculpture” in all this? And is there a boundary for what is social sculpture and what is just a premeditated act?
            I must seem like a neanderthal to you, but I still favor the idea of the maker over the conceptualizer.

          13. Preachy in what sense? They’re not trying to win anybody or present an “ideal” art practice, but are interested in building a community that becomes a catalyst for ideas rather than gaining the stamp of approval from the institutional/commercial art world. Their art school is free, so in terms of a “business move,” it’s hardly a lucrative one.
            And I don’t think that you are a neanderthal for preferring the traditional author/maker approach, but I would hope that you wouldn’t be condescending to others who prefer a different art practice.

          14. No I wouldn’t. I welcome the fact that there are all types of art practices. It makes for a diverse environment.
            Perhaps “preachy” was a poor choice but I do think they are to “win people” and present an “ideal”, which is no ideal(?). But one could now argue that the tactics of BHQ have led to success and elevated the group to wealth and fame. It could be now seen as a blueprint to the Whitney, Bischoferberger, etc
            Don’t you think though that with the level of success that they have achieved and the circles that they now run in, they have become what they originally set out to discredit? What I do not know, and this could be what sets this group apart, is if the members remain anonymous and the money that is generated is distributed to the needy rather than into the pockets of the members.

          15. Their democratizing approach is not posturing or a disingenuous way to gain access in the art world. I am glad of their success as it shows the art world that there are other models out there that attempt to explore strategies towards equilibrium.

        2. I think your viewpoint is a little myopic. Collectives aren’t formed based on fear, popularity, or individual promotion but on a communal effort to change the art/cultural landscape. History says they have ie. Dada, Bauhaus, Surrealism, Fluxus, Arte Povera, Bruce High Quality, and the list goes on. Certainly, there are individuals within the collective whose work stands in their own right (Dali, Macunias, Yoko Ono etc.). There may be one or two subversive catalysts, but revolution and change does not occur without solidarity.

    1. Most film/video requires a cast and crew. It is important that the people who make the work be credited. The film industry has measures in place for this but in the art world the credit usually only goes to the “video artist”. We believe in honoring the collaborative nature of film — hence collective.

      1. I respect that idea, but does this mean that everyone who worked on the video or film is equal in responsibility and importance?
        This is an admirable concept.

        1. “Without new visions, we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics, but a process that can and must transform us”
          ― Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

          1. what soundbite? I truly applaud a group who can share credit equally on a work of art or a project. It is a rare thing to see or hear of.
            I hope your group was able to accomplish what it set out to do but doesn’t a curator have the right to select what he or she wants to include without being policed by others? If one makes choices, and is willing to stand by them, those choices should not be forced to be changed within the context of a group show. Not everyone will be happy, many may be offended, but the idea is to have a conversation about what is happening in contemporary art, right? Your protest has now sparked that dialog even further but I think asking for another piece to be removed takes away the power of choice from the one who was specifically picked to make the decisions.
            I am not sure how one can handle the issue of race in a curated show. Do you set numbers of how many people of each race must be represented? Then have an equal ratio of men to women?
            In pro football, there is a rule (the Rooney rule) in place that requires a team to interview minorities for senior operation jobs. Would this be something that you could see being in place for curators picking artists for shows, that they must visit so many minority studios before making choices for inclusion? What if there is a concept for the show, but not enough minorities fit that criteria, does the concept need to be modified to fit the rule?

          2. I believe it is not about policing artists or curatorial choices, but curatorial responsibility to contextualize his/her presentation. The Yams DID NOT ask for the removal of Joe Scanlan, they questioned why their work was juxtaposed with one that they see as a mis-appropriation/mock(ery) of their cultural history without being provided a contextual framework or a space to discuss the contention. After all, isn’t contextual framing the purpose of curation, otherwise, it’s just another variety show. The knowledge that work you choose will be devisive and the resistance to engage with this very question defeats the purpose of a “curriculum.”
            What’s troubling about the animosity towards the ratio of men/women/minorities is the underlying assumption that there are basically just more talented men out there or that there are not enough talented minorities/women to choose from. We all know that opportunity and access are not equal across the board, and that networking is often used as a vetting system. Tokenism is not the answer as it is more of an addendum/band aid than a restructuring. Reaching equilibrium is a process, and takes a vigilant and concerted societal/institutional effort.

          3. Is there a underlying assumption that there are more talented men than women? I don’t see it. I think in today’s art world there are women minority artists who are using their background as subject matter to great success. Kara Walker, Ruby-Fraizer etc. As well as artists such as Mehretu, Mae Weems who are subjects of retrospectives and gallery shows.
            I won’t say that it has taken time for equality, and it is still does not exist in other areas of society, but in the arts it seems that it is one platform where a minority or women artist has subject matter that they can use to their advantage. Where the white male has to turn from his history and create work based on conjured thought and expression, the woman/minority has built in subject matter. Would a white under privileged artist who documented his town falling to economic depression get as much coverage as a black gay women? I don’t know. But it would seem as though those other attributes would set that artist apart and make them more appealing as a subject.
            It will always be a topic for discussion. I wish you well in your group’s endeavors.

          4. The demographics of the show say otherwise. I feel that there is a push back/resentment with the small but rising success of minorities/women in the art world. Scanlan’s work is an example of this. Appropriation to ride the fashion trend of black fetish in the art world is not rigorous thought. It’s posturing. I actually, like his Cubist wood collages in an of themselves and the addendum of Donelle’s persona seemed superfluous. I feel that he shouldn’t rely on an underdeveloped persona or an incomplete identity slippage (the meta of character within a character ie. Inception). We want to be judged on the rigor of our work not our subject matter. Kara Walker, Mae Weems deserve their success as their work is undeniable and to classify them as riding on the coattails of their history seems like a resentful response. And there are white underprivileged artists that genuinely document their lived experience, and they come off as equally touching and undeniable (Mark Morrisroe, Miroslav Tichy etc.).
            The Coco Fusco article below is a good clarification of the black fetish trend in the art market.

            I do thank you for your questions as they are very valid and important to address.

          5. I was not saying that those artists were “riding the coattails of history” in a resentful way. I would state that Walker especially uses history and historical symbolism in her work. I respect both artists, but to say that they want to be judged on the rigor of the work and not subject matter is absurd. It cannot be one or the other, but both.
            If there is a history of unequal inclusion of women and minorities at the Whitney, why accept an invitation at all? Wouldn’t it be more of a statement to refuse all together then to accept inclusion then find problems once inside? That would seem like having your cake and eating it too.
            I am not aware of a resentment, and if there is a “black fetish trend” then when is the playing field level? It would seem as though even with success there is a problem or a paranoia that everything is not what it seems. In most instances the viewer is not aware of the race of a piece of artwork unless it is derived from the maker’s history. (Walker) So is that when the resentment starts? Or does the resentment exist so as to not include minority artists in prominent shows such as the Whitney?
            This is something I was unaware of and will follow with interest.

          6. So are you implying that Walker/Weems success is directly linked to using their minority background as a crutch to get into the art world? That they are taking advantage of their blackness? If so, how is that not resentful? Please clarify. If one assumes that their stardom is a result of tokenism/affirmative action, then the tactic of using tokenism as a tool for more visibility (when one is not really black) IS taking advantage of the system. I agree with Coco Fusco that Joe Scanlan has the perfect right to create Donelle, but this question keeps coming up and hitting a wall “what is the intent?” The way that Joe Scanlan peeps out of Donelle to take credit whenever the work is acknowledged seems more advantageous. If you want to judge both on subject matter and rigor, I would say that Donelle falls short because she is not flushed out or subversive enough. She is a reappropriation of an appropriation flavored with tokenist tactics. She lacks the conviction, persuasion, and complexity of a lived experience. She is a flat character without conflict.
            The field is not level when black artists are told that their success is because of their blackness and not the strength of their work. We were on the premise that our work was good enough to get into the Whitney. If it was a handout, which was the tone we got with the reactions to our questions and requests, then why stay?

          7. Where did I ever say that it was a crutch? I stated that they used their background (what they know, or what they have experienced) as a basis for their work and it has brought them success. I would judge success by the acknowledgement by a large number of people that the work is important, which it is. Is that “taking advantage of their blackness” or simply using what you know as subject matter? Both of these artists use imagery that is emotionally charged. They are “allowed” to use these images because of being either a minority or a woman, Scanlan can not because he is a white male.
            If you are saying that certain imagery can only be used by people that are tied to it by race or sex, then doesn’t every artist who finds themselves sitting on a wealth of provocative imagery, take advantage of that if they chose to use it? If you know that you can freely use controversial imagery without backlash, isn’t that an advantage in the visual arts?
            It is up to the individual to decide if they want to use it or not. What sets these woman apart from other minority artists is that their skill and handling of materials, coupled with the imagery, has elevated them above other artists.

          8. Yes, exactly, they have gone beyond their subject with their talent. I don’t have a problem with Joe taking the material just like I don’t have a problem with white boys rapping (ie. Eminem, Beastie Boys). But they do it well, and the intent is not to underhandedly disrespect the source.
            I don’t know if Joe is coming from the same place, specially with the telling self-portrait of him in blackface titled “Pay Dirt.” Intentions are important and more transparent than you think.

          9. Why would you have a problem with “white boys” rapping? Does rap music belong to the African American? Does creation justify ownership? This would seem to be a whole other subject that perhaps this is not the forum for.

          10. I said I DON’T have a problem. I LIKE Beastie Boys and Eminem. They are perfect examples of incorporating subject matter and enriching it. I HAVE a problem if it is used underhandedly to MOCK it. But, yes, let’s get back to art. Can you explain “Pay Dirt?” and Donelle? How it enriches and complicates the subject because all I see is flatness.

          11. I have never liked Scanlan’s work. The whole idea of inventing a character to act out your thoughts seems silly to me.(plus, once Duchamp did it, that kinda ended the subject for me) I think Scanlan’s character is not provocative enough…her “biography” is exactly what you would think it would be. There is just not enough there for me to be excited about.
            But then, my work is about how man made elements can influence our movement through a space and the projection of self through models. It is quite different than the work we have been discussing and I would imagine you and your group would find it ridiculously boring. But who is to say…
            Anyway,this whole conversation started because I said that collectives were a gimmick. How we got to this point is impressive…this must be the strangest version of telephone ever to be played.

          12. J, don’t be coy and don’t make me go Sontag on you again. Let it go. I know you can do better.

          13. I’m not sure what you mean…what should I let go and do better? I have enjoyed the exchange, but I do make non-controversial work.
            Check it sometime. (
            And yes, please don’t go Sontag on me, I could feel the heat seething from my screen.

          14. Har har…
            But thank you for all your questions as it is important to clarify dialogue.

  29. We
    never asked for the removal of Joe Scanlan’s work. We wanted
    clarification and open debate. It was our curator Michelle Grabner after
    all who called her program a “curriculum” and anointed it with a photo
    of President Obama in reference to classrooms. Grabner wanted her
    curriculum to be a place for artists to teach other artists. Fed up with
    the the perspective being taught we called and emailed her. We staged
    an intervention at the Whitney in front of the Dick Joke paintings
    opening weekend. The only response we got was Grabner saying that I
    should talk to an actress playing Donelle. Then nothing. At the
    roundtable the Whitney picked the black hands raised at the Q&A last
    after answering all the white people first. When questions of race came
    up they just said that they would like to have a discussion about it at
    somepoint and then proceeded to turn on the lights and leave. One of
    the curators said something like “maybe diversity is important enough to
    not have as qualified people involved”. Anyway Joe Scanlan said “I’m
    not the one begging museums for crumbs”. Exactly. We left.

  30. Joe Scanlan’s words:
    Donelle Woolford: Responsibility and Insincerity
    by Ralph Ellison and Maria Gilissen

    Among certain problems arising out of the artistic tradition from
    which we spring is the question of why most protagonists of African
    American art are without intellectual depth. Too often they are
    figures caught up in the most intense forms of social struggle,
    subject to the most extreme forms of the human predicament, and
    yet seldom are they able to articulate the issues which torture them.
    Not that many worthy individuals aren’t in fact inarticulate, but there
    are enough exceptions in real life to provide the perceptive artist
    with models. And even if these “exceptions” did not exist it still
    would be necessary, both in the interest of narrative expression and
    as examples of human possibility, to invent them. Donelle Woolford is
    one such invention.

    Donelle Woolford is an African American artist for the 21st century.
    One of the ever-present challenges facing Donelle Woolford is that of
    endowing inarticulate wood scraps with eloquence. For it is by such
    attempts that she fulfills her aesthetic responsibilities as an artist.
    Her assembled wooden paintings, Cubist in spirit, are made to coin-
    cide with and challenge the 100th anniversary of that movement.
    Working alone in a lumber reclamation factory in the backwaters of
    faded industrial town, she rekindles past glories by reconstructing
    them from memory.
    But we might ask, on which memories are her reconstructions based?
    African art? Postmodernism? A manufacturing-based economy?
    Cubism? When images just come to you, when they well up out of the
    debris under your feet as if by instinct, where do they come from? Is
    Donelle Woolford, having been made aware of the dominant aesthetic
    of the twentieth century by various institutions of higher learning,
    merely regurgitating that aesthetic on their behalf? Or is she reaching
    back, like a time machine, through Picasso and Braque to a more
    authentic West African ancestry? And given the Postmodern theories
    of cultural influence and origin that are the basis of Identity politics,
    is that kind of dissimilation even possible?

    These are all good questions. As one investigates further, we come
    around to the beginning of the story: Donelle Woolford is a narrative
    by Joe Scanlan. She is a character spawned by myths and compelled
    by demographics to embody the persona that her pseudo-Cubist
    paintings require.

    For that reason, critics should not be too certain in attributing
    thoughts to Donelle Woolford, even when they quote extracts from
    her own words. And they should not try to fit her work in the mold of
    fashionable theorists. If that mold is political, it does not fit her
    compassion nor her realism; if didactic or philosophical, it does not
    encompass her simplicity, nor her beauty, nor her risks. Those who
    still insist on interpreting the work of Donelle Woolford should
    consider the words of a follower of Hypatia in the fifth century:

    “One who loves wisdom is obliged to disguise the
    truth in order to have it accepted . . . There is a
    strong analogy between light and truth just as there
    is between our eyes and our intelligence. If the eye
    suddenly receives too much light it is blinded . . . It is
    for that reason, I believe, that fictions are necessary.”

    The essential question posed by Donelle Woolford, then, regards the
    responsibility of artists to be free, to be imaginative, to create a
    profitable scenario for their work by any means. In other words, to be
    insincere. If that insincerity is persuasive, if its ideas and characters
    and material props are desirable, then the commodifications, politics
    or ethical questions that ensue are worth whatever havoc they wreak
    on convention. To paraphrase Marcel Broodthaers, we should not let
    our Selves get in the way of a good idea. Better to be an avatar, to
    become suspect, and to let ourselves go.

  31. The whitney biennial is some crap for and by rich people. Its got a board of wealthy elites behind it. its supported by Soethby’s. Its got major real estate industry ties. Its corporate hype. Its boosterism for the 1% ‘s investments in the art world. To imagine your “collective” is somehow an agent of political critique while taking part in this idiotic spec tall is beyond absurd.

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