Ryan Wong, "Joe Scanlan, Self Portrait (Pay Dirt), 2003" (2014), digital image, unlimited edition

Ryan Wong, “Joe Scanlan, Self Portrait (Pay Dirt), 2003” (2014), digital image, unlimited edition

Joe Scanlan is the artist who supposedly teaches at Yale and Princeton Universities, and whose Donelle Woolford project was one of the major framing works of this year’s Whitney Biennial. As intended, the project has set off a healthy and robust debate about the realities of race, class, and gender privilege within the art world, culminating in the decision of the Yams Collective to withdraw from the Biennial.

Now that the Whitney Biennial is over and the critical debate around it has subsided, I feel it’s time to put this project to rest: I created Joe Scanlan.

The idea for Joe Scanlan came a few years ago when I became interested in the presence of straight white men within the art world. In so many other realms straight white men are deprived of social and political ‘authenticity’: look at the white appropriation of black music from blues to hip hop, the white idolization of black athletes, or the apotheosis of white politics (Bill Clinton) resting in black folksiness. In the art world, however, the discourse around art produced by straight white men often casts them as singular and generative geniuses.

This struck me as a curiosity. I wondered what it would be like to create a figure that, through a practice of what I’d like to term “willful white male idiocy,” could not only point to, but also test the limits of and explode the boundaries of straight white male positionality within the art world. Could such a project, were it successful, help to undo some of the myth of the white male genius (and its corollary: the ghettoized queer, female, poor, colored “political” artist) we have inherited from European modernism?

The test was a simple one: to create an artist whose work was, on its surface, blatantly racist, but to wrap it well enough in the language of contemporary art theory and willful white idiocy to grant it the status of genius. I admit the technique was a bit heavy-handed, but the extremity of its contradiction is, I believe, what allowed the project to continue for so long. The language of contemporary art theory served to legitimate this practice within art discourses, while the willful white idiocy served to make critics and theorists trust its intention. This became particularly poignant, as the purpose of the piece was to call into question the very idea of artistic intention as a shield from criticism.

The first important artwork by the fictional Scanlan used the quintessential symbol of white cultural violence in America: blackface. With the piece “Self Portrait (Pay Dirt)” (2003), I had Scanlan execute an unmistakable act of blackface under the guise of a project about commerce, the elements, chemistry, growth, etc. To my surprise, no major critic made anything of the grinning portrait. It was accepted within major academic and arts institutions.

And so, Donelle Woolford was born. After many conversations with straight white men in the art world (some of them knowing collaborators and some of them unwitting ones), I began to theorize a way to express white supremacy, privilege, and violence through a project in which the white male artist simultaneously tries to cast himself in the best possible light. By having Scanlan literally invent a black female character, we produced an intense friction between the artist, who embodies privilege, and the marginalized body he invents. All of this, of course, ultimately served the career and conceptual gain of the former.

I was certainly surprised to see how long it took for the Joe Scanlan/Donelle Woolford  project to be identified as racist. At first, I thought this was a failure of the project itself. The name Donelle Woolford was taken from a black football player whom Scanlan admired as a child (because of his need to seek ‘realness’ in black athletes’ bodies). The various women who played Woolford were interchangeable, defined only by their race and gender. I couldn’t have imagined that such blatant gestures would go unnoticed. I can only attribute this delay to the fact that, for many years, the project existed within the most elite discursive spaces of the art world, which are fundamentally hostile or indifferent towards women and people of color.

Two of the many women enlisted to play "Donnelle Woolford"

Ryan Wong, “Joe Scanlan, Donelle Woolford project” (2005–14)

I was relieved, finally, to see the increased attention the Whitney Biennial brought to the Donelle Woolford project, under whose name we were able to ‘submit’ Scanlan’s ‘work.’ As artist Coco Fusco would rightly point out later, the ensuing debate brought to reality the Scanlan character’s “castration fantasy about white male erasure” at the hands of a newly empowered group of younger, politically savvy artists and critics who read the works not from Scanlan’s vantage point, but as women of color.

This discourse, and Scanlan’s responses to it, were the apex and ‘punchline’ of my project. We needed to be prepared with a response strategy, so we set a few guiding rules for Scanlan’s willful white male idiocy to reveal itself in his responses:

  1. Scanlan chooses to remain ignorant of the history and context for his own work, especially with regard to representations of and violence against black bodies in America. See, for example, his admitted ignorance of Glenn Ligon’s work.
  2. Scanlan never admits wrongdoing, let alone apologizes.
  3. Scanlan rehashes classic defensive positions of willful idiocy from the past that remove the ‘problem’ from himself. This includes versions of: “some viewers/participants weren’t offended”; “you don’t understand the work”; and “I’m sorry if you were offended.” This rule was in part for comic effect.

The first delicate salvo came from white male writer Jeremy Sigler, who was able to make motions towards but not puncture Scanlan’s white male idiocy in BOMB Magazine. Sigler attempted to dismantle the Scanlan character, but within the language of supposedly neutral — aka male European modernist — contemporary art.

In his “edgy conversation,” Sigler allowed the Scanlan character to cast the piece in the tradition of Cubism. As we expected, Sigler went on to discuss Woolford as “assemblage,” as “a courageous and very sensitive experiment,” and as “theater.” While he nodded to the possibility that Scanlan needed to see Woolford within the conversation of race in America, it was not his main line of inquiry, and he allowed the Scanlan character to follow the three rules above without trouble. Sigler also allowed Scanlan — and this stunned me — to not only admit that Woolford’s name was taken from a black football player, but to offer that athlete’s narrative as a metaphor for his own fortitude and struggle.

Excerpt from Joe Scanlan's comments on Facebook (click to enlarge)

Some of the character Joe Scanlan’s comments on Facebook (click to enlarge)

When the artist Micol Hebron posted the BOMB interview for discussion on her Facebook page, we saw an opportunity to reveal the extent of Scanlan’s willful idiocy in the conversation thread that followed. It was an exhausting and intentionally fruitless project: we had the Scanlan character post scores of lengthy messages both as Donelle Woolford and ‘himself.’ In excerpts to the left and below, you can see how the character contradicts himself, e.g. stating that diversity statistics don’t matter, then listing them, or understanding he is being accused of blackface but refusing to say the word, in order to preserve his willful idiocy. This was an ideal opportunity to play out the character’s castration fantasy: he would feel compelled to respond directly to his critics, knowing something was wrong but, in his idiocy, feeling powerless to solve it.


More Facebook comments

Another milestone in the project’s success was the widely circulated piece in The New Inquiry by Eunsong Kim and Maya Isabella Mackrandilal criticizing the framework of the Whitney Biennial, with the Scanlan piece as a central symbol. Kim and Mackrandilal caught on to the fact that the Scanlan character’s racism was the project’s central component. Their observation that “We [in the elite art world] are more comfortable with white fantasies of the other than examining lived experience,” was, indeed, the reason the Woolford project had been so accepted in the art discourse. The piece was not only the first to see the project for what it was, but, more importantly, used it as a generative starting point to undo other such examples of aggressive white male violence in the art world with the hashtag and website #scanlaning.

Finally, the Scanlan/Donelle Woolford project forced the withdrawal of the Yams Collective from the Whitney Biennial. We decided to continue the Scanlan character’s willful idiocy in his response to the news. It was important, at this late stage, that he understand something was wrong but hold onto the belief that that something surely wasn’t him. I’ve annotated his response letter to show our strategy at work:

Dear Siena [sic],

I’m sorry to hear that HOWDOYOUSAYYAMEINAFRICAN [sic again! An obvious move, to be sure. But we thought it appropriately symbolic for Scanlan not to bother learning the spellings of their names.] has chosen to remove it’s [sic] 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. [Scanlan indicates that you, as women and people of color, have objections and issues with politics. He doesn’t have issues with 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. [The most important thing was that he, Scanlan, learned something.] 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. [He still doesn’t get it.]

I doubt I could change your mind about Donelle Woolford. [When he said “learning experience,” above, he really meant “teaching experience.”] 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. [Alas, if only you understood the work. Did I mention two of my collaborators are black women?]

all the best,

Joe Scanlan

It was not an easy letter to craft, nor was the withdrawal of Yams a heartening experience. It was a necessary fact that while no people in power suffered because of the project, young artists of color were forced to make a difficult and potentially damaging decision because they possess a political conscience that the Scanlan character did not.

I hope that by creating Scanlan, I was able to offer a touchstone: an extreme example of the willful idiocy that, when left unchecked, results in violence towards women and people of color in the art world and the world beyond. I hope this act of whiteface, as disturbing as it was, can also be seen with some levity now that it is over. And in offering the story behind this project, I would like readers to now be able to pity Joe Scanlan’s constructed worldview, to stop his violent actions (or those of others like him), and, ultimately, to dismantle him.

Ryan Lee Wong is an arts writer based in Brooklyn. He has worked at the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Chinese in America, where he was assistant curator.

119 replies on “I Am Joe Scanlan”

  1. Good work. I just thought Joe Scanlan was doing a great job of making art critics look utterly powerless and stupid. Hence, ART.

  2. So in attempting to condemn white male racism, you cause a bunch of black artists to withdraw from the Biennial (SO valuable to an artist’s career)? You should have revealed your project before the show so that YAMS could have reinstated themselves. Your debatable point would have been made without damaging the careers of those it was supposedly about defending. Hope you feel good about yourself.

    1. How do you define ‘valuable’ to an artist’s career? Has there ever been a study of the inclusion in this exhibition and it’s impact? Is the ‘valuable’ impact merely the visibility? If so, it could be argued that the artists who withdrew gained more of that by withdrawing than by participating. Is the ‘valuable’ impact financial success? Because I hear many stories of artists going into debt to participate, and struggling for years after. What’s their percentage of visitor fees? I’m guessing it’s approximately zero. Or is it the ‘valuable’ impact the honor of getting this exhibition? Because I personally feel that leveraging an artist’s success on the inclusion in this exhibition (and a few other of it’s counterparts) is exactly the system that needs the sort of disruption caused by both this work AND the withdrawal of YAMS (and hopefully many more actions like this to come).

  3. Has anyone interviewed the actors who have played the Donelle Woolford character yet? What there responses are to the work? Please share if you have any links. Thank you.

    1. Yes, Kidwell – the woman in yellow pictured above, yet given no name by the author of this piece – was interviewed with Scanlan back in March.


      The reason you aren’t getting much of the actors’ voices now is because it would spoil all the manufactured hype media outlets such as Hyperallergic need to increase ad revenue. One well-written article with Kidwell would put this whole thing to bed.

      YAMs wouldn’t even talk to the actors, yet they pretended to want “conversation.” Right.

      1. Just because the actors complicit in the work don’t feel or realize they are being exploited doesn’t make their exploitation any less real.

        1. That is better phrased as a question and given to Kidwell, not made as a statement and given to me.

          1. There is an LA Times article where Kidwell is interviewed about her role/thoughts on the work. She seems to be oblivious to the fact that if this work becomes entrenched within the art historical canon no one is going to think of her or the other actors as authors – these actors regardless of how involved they are in the creative process won’t be acknowledged as anything more than Scanlan’s tools – black female bodies used to realize a white male artist’s authorial vision.

          2. In the article when she wonders why she hasn’t been contacted for her opinion even though it’s “her work as well” my primary thought was – of course you haven’t been contacted because no one actually believes it is your work. In the context created by the work you are a tool wielded by a white male artist to build his art world reputation – nothing more. No one who thinks the work is good or has any validity cares what you think because you are not the “artist”.

          3. “…my only thought is – of course you haven’t been contacted because no one actually believes it is your work..”

            These “no ones” are a rather incurious lot, it seems. And you had only “one” thought? That’s exactly what’s wrong with all the ‘discussion’ around this piece. One thought.

          4. Artist’s intent is more critical to art history than art criticism, where it is largely unimportant. If an artist has to explain so much of it outside of the work than they have failed.

          5. “…Artist’s intent is more critical to art history than art criticism…”

            But you and MH have refused to interview him on his own terms, because you think that would be “advertising.” So much for your interest in artist intent.

            I don’t think Scanlan needs to explain anything. To me his work is playing out exactly as its designed to. And it’s doing what Grabner wanted it to do. And YAMs took the bait. Especially Sienna, who by being married to a very famous white male artist, is in a precarious situation as it relates to black identity and status.

            I am merely pointing out the failure of those who accuse the actors of being pawns to be responsible to that discussion: it requires talking to the actors.

          6. Wow, chicken fingers (whose name has changed to “Guest” to confuse the public and this discourse), you are even more insidious than I thought. Let’s look at the stats: one of the actors, finally understanding the exploitation left. The other one is persona non-grata. And the third volunteered to continue the puppetry, but hey 1 out of 3 ain’t bad right?
            Even more disturbing is Grabner and Scanlan trivializing the YAMS as taking racism as bait, trying to take the cred for the discussion, while at the same time trying to bring down Sienna “the instigator” by painting her as a goldigger without cred of her own. BTW she did get the very prestigious Struttgart residency waayy before she met Chuck. Grabner is known in the art circles to be vindictive, so guess the YAMS are enemy #1 for her and cohorts. BRING IT ON!

          7. Sienna is Chuck’s Donelle. That’s why she’s mad. But that’s also why she gets the spotlight. She’s the star of her own Greek tragedy.

            Who is she posing next to at all those art parties? Not the YAMS.

          8. Wow, chicken fingers (aka. Guest-people can still tell it’s you by your tone), I would LOVE to know who you really are as obviously, you have been waiting just waiting for this moment, to shame a black woman, because how DARE she even show her face in your PRIVILEGED circle, as in who invited the maid to the country club?!

          9. That’s hilarious. The crux of Scanlan’s critique is the preciousness with which black female artists are treated in the art world. So his making one up is really upsetting because it exposes the differential treatment. That’s what makes what he is doing ‘totally wrong’ according to folks like you. Which also makes him “totally right” in his critique. All the angry displays, like yours, show it, as do the hamfisted accusations of racism.

            Anyhow, I thought “BRING IT ON” was a request for an argument, but it looks like you trade better in ad hominems.

          10. That’s a very hilarious way to show PRECIOUSNESS. Please elaborate.
            So what is REALLY at stake here chicken fingers? Since, we are being honest and all. The public is dying to know…

          11. What is a hilarious way to show preciousness? The only one I can think of is letting Sienna shriek on and on about White Supremacism and so forth with no one feeling bothered to publicly respond. She’s not a threat because she’s treated as “special” and she knows it. That’s why her rhetoric was so cartoonishly harsh. She simply could not get anyone angry.

          12. Dear EVERYONE,

            Who ever thought that America is post-racial, just read this thread
            and decide for yourself….

          13. I was discussing this subject with a 15 year old girl and she thought the backlash against Scanlan was silly, showing how old and out of touch “older people” are. That was her decision, and she made it herself. But maybe she needs an old cantankerous Liberal to set her straight?

          14. Because you need a 15 year olds opinion and not grown black women right?!
            Lovely, rebuttal, so thought provoking

          15. You addressed your comment to “Dear EVERYONE” and “who ever…”

            But you meant EVERYONE [who is a grown black woman]?


          16. Dear Chicken Fingers (aka. Guest),

            Please I beg you to keep showing your agenda to the public as it CLEARLY shows what is at stake here…

          17. I fixed my comment so now yours doesn’t make sense – clearly I win at Disqus and the internetz – Huzzah!

          18. Your revised comment is right in that no one believes she is the artist. (That can be understood from a wall plaque.) The problem is she being talked about as an object of exploitation, yet no one is asking her about that. I already gave my reason why no one is asking her: it ruins the media orgy and puts the story to bed.

          19. I will be more than happy to dismantle this whole manipulation game. Will the real Donelle Woolford please stand up!

          20. Dear Ms. Kidwell,
            I hope Mr. Scanlan is paying you well enough to sell your people down the river.
            I would love to hear your justification for his art and your active “collaboration” in it.
            I would love you to address it in front of a large audience of your own people, and say it with the utmost honesty and sincerity….

          21. Like many of the opinions being pelted around on here, this doesn’t really take into account how the media generally address projects like this, which is to focus questions of intent. origin, etc on the artist. Do the media interview dancers about a choreographer’s work, for example, or the participants of a performance artist’s work? Very rarely. People actually seem lot more interested in what Scanlan’s performers/collaborators think than they are about other project performers — I know I am. In fact, I can’t think of another project where anyone has really even cared about what the performers might have to say and think. But then, I’m white and have no right to an opinion…..

          22. Well, given the sexism that goes along with the racism of both the art world and the media, is that any surprise at all??

          23. Of course not, NOTHING about this is SURPRISING. The point that we all consent to THIS AS THE NORM is what is DISTURBING!

          24. So lesson learned is BUSINESS AS USUAL.
            Dear POC,
            Be f*n happy with the crumbs that we gave you and don’t you dare ask for more! Because if you do, we know how to set you straight in line again….

          25. That’s exactly the problem. POC asking for things. It initiates and reinforces patronization within the act itself.

          26. AND you just dug your own grave without even knowing it. REALLY PEOPLE, this is the kind of ignorant shit that PoC have to deal with on a DAILY BASIS?! And you wonder why we are mad as hell?!

          27. Uh, oh….someone needs a history lesson!

            What I wrote was the premise of the Black Panther movement.

            Black Power was a political slogan and a name for various associated ideologies aimed at achieving self-determination for people of African/Black descent.[1] It is used by African Americans in the United States.[2] The movement was prominent in the late 1960s and early 1970s, emphasizing racial pride and the creation of black political and cultural institutions to nurture and promote black collective interests[3] and advance black values.


            To quote myself again:

            “That’s exactly the problem. POC asking for things. It initiates and reinforces patronization within the act itself.”

          28. History lesson #2:
            Funny how leaders of the black civil rights movement (aka. MLK and Malcolm X) were publicly executed, AND the Black Panthers were infiltrated by the CIA and dismantled from within. And more insidiously black neighborhoods were lured into a culture of drug dependency to be conveniently portrayed as criminals and welfare moochers. Yes, this is more than art this is your culture. See it with clarity and above the post racial neo liberalist BS that they give you.

          29. You went from talking about elitism in art to murdering civil rights leaders. So what do you want to talk about, Hitler? Not a terrible artist, actually.

          30. Yes, it is PATRONIZING that you think that all POC people do is ASK for things. They don’t have the RIGHT to have their OWN DIGNITY, and be judged for their WORK LIKE ANY OTHER ARTIST, because if they talk about their blackness, it is a crutch, BUT all you do is CATEGORIZE them by their BLACKNESS, but yet WE are the “whiney” one’s that are “crying a river.” THIS IS OUR REFUSAL: WE WILL NOT BE DEFINED BY YOU.


          32. And to the public who is reading and witnessing this contention, I urge you to hold your institutions responsible to the educational agendas they are presenting. This is what you are teaching the future to hold as valuable. If they not are courageous or willing enough to do it, you must. This is how things change…

          33. Yes, I was unfortunately in it, and experienced first hand your wonderful rhetoric, and decided to refuse it and leave the room. No thank you, I’m not begging or even ASKING for your crumbs…

          34. YAMS!!!!! That explains all the hyperbole now.

            Was your first “act of protest” choosing to participate, like it was for Sienna? Then the second act (this is the right word, “act”) leaving in a huff weeks later?

          35. Sigh, and the attack gets more name-cally and trivializing. Classic dismissal act. Not going away sorry to say. Now that Pandora’s box is out in the open, someone else will take the torch if not us. And now your turn…Who are you really?

          36. What *name* was assigned to anyone? There are no ad hominems in my comments.

            Who am I? Just someone who sees through grandstanding and looks at art on its own terms. I had no idea who Scanlan was before you made him famous.

            And when you refused to engage Kidwell it revealed the shallow narcissism of your PR stunts.

          37. Didn’t my comments engage her? Ask her to defend her work with Scanlan with true sincerity?
            And yet, you are still hooded…
            Dear Art Institutions,
            Now, the public is aware of your office politics and your unwillingness to change it. Know now, that whenever you propose an exhibit or have curatorial talks, someone in the audience will always question your motives. We will be now be listening to your true rhetoric…

          38. You [collectively, as a YAM] will not engage Kidwell, yet pretend to want discussion. Uh, huh. Yet what you actually do is grandstand and put on a show (literally, because it was covered in Hyperallergic by someone surprised to see only Chuck Close there – wonder why?). The only institutional critique being made here is Scanlan’s, and that’s why it, not the YAMS (whose 15 minutes are up), is getting so much attention and paying Hyperallergic’s bills.

            I’m “hooded”? Does that mean you don’t know who I am. Sure, but you’re typing under “guest” – which is undifferentiated from any other “guest” here – not me. Or do you mean I am “hooded” as in I belong to Chelsea’s chapter of the KKK? Well, there you got me there. I’ve been had like a Scooby Doo villain.

          39. She has had plenty of opportunities to stand up for Joe in numerous articles an facebook columns. Why didn’t she? I am more than happy to have a cup of coffee with her (Dear Kidwell, I hope you are reading this)
            And your angry immature response is telling…you seem to know a lot of backkstage details about Sienna’s life the YAM situation so I doubt you are a regular “Joe” and yet you are still hooded…
            Dear Institutions,
            This is the kind of person you choose to side with. This is what you choose to legitimize as ART.

          40. Hey, there! Let’s get back to earth.

            “…that you think…”

            That first sentence is a total distortion of anything I’ve said. Don’t abdicate your responsibility to engage with I write just because it’s easier to conjure up cartoons to rage against.

            In any case, just take this up with Kidwell if you thing the project she participates in is a problem. All this killing the messenger business is a waste of your time if you care about the issue (rather than pretend to).

          41. Sounds just like the dismissive shit that Grabner said to Sienna-as in if you have a problem with it, talk to your own people not the project heads because they as paid workers will tell you succinctly to be grateful and tow the company line like everyone else.

          42. Yeah, it’s dismissive for sure. Most figures in the art world dismisses it. That’s why the only person who showed up to Sienna’s “me party” was her husband.

          43. And you just proved my point entirely yet again. Of course you guys are pissed when we called you out, and also there’s solidarity in office politics specially when it is being threatened. Hence, the institutional blackout. But we refuse to be commerce pawns, so you can’t dangle that rotten carrot in front of us.
            Now this is starting to get somewhere…

          44. What’s so absurd about your outrage is that you are talking to someone who has no institutional position in the art world whatsoever. Not would I want one. I’m just not towing the Hyperallergic line, so I look like “the man” to people having hissy fits. Welp, sorry to disappoint. I just think the arguments here are weak and pretentious.

          45. Something is rotten in Denmark, but I will take your honorable word for it…
            We will let the public decide who is weak and pretentious. For the discussion to exist, is victory enough…

  4. Such bullshit. You think calling people racist is some kind of joke? You’re not only wasting your efforts, you’re actively contributing to confusion and divisiveness

  5. The YAM’s did not withdrawl over the piece they withdrew because of the lack of the Whitney’s and the curators accountability, response & continuation of institutional and systematic bigotry and white supremacy. So please keep patting yourself on the back.

  6. I get it. I get it. But … You’re just trolling. I do this on the internet every day.

  7. A muckraker gets to be called a troll and the Yams get institutional radio silence while the non-opportunist “white idiot” gets showered with Frieze, Armory, a Whitney tour AND even after having being called out on his shit face gets Documenta AND a Princeton sabbatical. Wow, membership DOES have its privileges and Everything is right with American rugged individualism where talent + hard work=success.

    1. it makes me sad that artists of all races doing the hard work of making art and trying to get it shown are not getting any recognition while this dude, who somehow thinks ironic racism is super cool and worth wasting all our time with is living the high life. Depressing.

      1. Yep, even affirmative action (which privileged people like “cry a river” about) can’t get you this much of the apple pie. So the non-opportunistic “white idiot” exploits BOTH privilege and tokenism to get all the booty for himself. The wonderful high art institutions have made this win/win fail safe situation possible rather than admit to their culpability and flawed policies. And lovely trolls like Chicken Fingers (aka. now one of the Guests) and Wagnerian_thrice will defend this kind of slimy living to the bitter end, cuz hey, shitheads gotta stick together right?

  8. this is such a white way of “exposing racism.” and i fail to find the art. Our lives are not fuc*ng experiment.

  9. This is ridiculous – so many people commenting who don’t realize this entire post is a satirical stab at Scanlan’s work. Hilarious and sad how many people become irate and express misguided opinions without bothering to do a simple fucking google search.

    1. I get it and did a fucking google search, but this whole thing still seems pretty perverse and misguided to me-both Scanlan’s project and Wong’s satire (unless its someone else pretending to be Wong pretending to be Scandlan?) . While artists are busy making art, these guy are meta-masturbating all over the place. Bravo? I don’t think so.

      1. I guess my position is that I think Scanlan’s work and its acceptance into the art establishment is irresponsible and harmful and just plain bad and I appreciate Wong’s satire because it takes the piss out of garbage art that should be ignored but isn’t cause it’s “controversial” and a white man made it.

        1. I guess we’re pretty much in agreement then. Yay! Except that I feel like Wong is jumping onto the Scanlan gravy train and not clarifying but obscuring the issue-which is Scanlan’s harmfulness and “ironic racism” that pretty much just boils down to racism, and I’ll say it again (broken record like) distracting from actual art.

          1. This is what ART is SUPPOSED TO DO. CHALLENGE NORMATIVE THINKING and reveal hypocrisies within the system. It is INTRINSICALLY RELATED TO one’s CURRENT LIVED EXPERIENCE. It seems visionary for it’s time because it PROPOSES ALTERNATIVE AESTHETICS and POSSIBILITIES which weren’t thought about or even considered. When social consciousness eventually catches up, the voices have already disappeared, to be easily remolded and recontextualized. The few that are lucky and noticed while alive, will have a constant uphill battle to validate themselves. This is how it is.

          2. I don’t pretend to know what art is or is not supposed to do. I don’t pretend to be an expert. Perhaps you are. Seems to me your argument could be equally true of any branch of philosophy or critical thought as well. OK, we can call anything art, and anything that claims to be art, art. But just because something challenges normative thinking, I don’t think that makes it art. It could be a challenge to normative thinking and not art. And I think if we agree to the notion that everything is art then the whole concept of art loses meaning. But that’s me. I know others disagree. To me, this meta cluster f*&^k is not art, and, moreover, it is not challenging normative thinking and is not proposing any new aesthetic or possibilities. Again not “how it is”, but how it feels to me.

          3. So is art merely object/image making? Purely for functionless beauty and aesthetic enjoyment? It never served a societal aesthetic/agenda? Hmmm, Medieval and Renaissance art subjects as religious commissions wouldn’t say so. The rise of 19th Century Modernism in relation to the value of nature, cross cultural pollination, and the validation of the everydayman wouldn’t say so. The resistance of DaDaist to Fascist war machines wouldn’t say so. Are they not artists? Yes, this is a very important question that we keep coming back to: WHAT IS ART? More importantly, WHAT DOES ART MEAN TODAY?

          4. Uhmmm… I didn’t say art was merely object making or any of that other stuff. And I don’t think it is. I’m all for shaking things up and asking questions. I certainly think all the artists you mention were artists, making what I would consider art. But all I know for sure is what art is to me, and as I said, this particular clusterf$@#k ain’t it.

          5. But this clusterf*ck of a conversation is needed in order break elitist policies, in order to make what you feel as art to be allowed to be shown. We will not allow artists to be disillusioned about the lack of access anymore. They will not be condemned to low end jobs just to make ends meet and squeeze their real work in between. Your experience matters. Your voice matters.

          6. Well, while I don’t think this particular clusterf%^*k is advancing the interests of any kind of artist…. I definitely agree their interests are worth advancing…..Amen all the way on your last two sentences. I’d love to see that day come for all creative people….

  10. Hrag, has anyone at Hyperallergic attempted to engage the actors in these endless stories about the piece? If, so, why’d they refuse? If not, why are they left out of the “story”?

    1. Yes, we did (and I appreciate you asking, considering you make accusations that are groundless above) and Scanlan would only talk to our reporter with the actors in unison, and that was unacceptable. We’re not here to promote his project on his terms, and we wanted to talk to people individually. You can ask Mostafa about the specifics, it was his decision, I only know what was said in passing.

      Also, your comments are getting rude, and not contributing to productive atmosphere. Please take a look at our commenting policies: http://hyperallergic.com/comment-policy/

        1. Hi ‘Chicken Fingers’ — I am loathe to engage here but to be clear Scanlan did not insist on speaking to me in unison with the actresses, which he identified as “the two other main people” in the project. He just cc’d them in his response to my query for an interview and said he prefers that press queries be directed to them as a group even if questions are targeted individually. I did not press the matter and I did not proceed with the interview at that time. The decision not to seek the perspective of the actresses has been laid out elsewhere, but it’s pretty straightforward and boils down to their being paid actresses, effectively assistants, not artists, and interviewing them would unfairly and incorrectly place the onus on them to discuss/defend the aims of a project they did not author and its dialogue with an institutional art world of which they are not intentional participants.


          1. Thanks for your response. I think it reveals my point, though.

            The editors had a choice to pursue a conversation with the subject at hand – the actors thought to be “exploited” – or publish a long satire against the artist. Hrag says it is baseless, but I think my argument for why the actors are being ignored is pretty solid.

          2. I understand the editors have not contacted the black actors in this piece to discuss this issue: “the black actors are being exploited.”

          3. Oh, but there seems to me to be a two-edged sword here, for where you saw it would be putting the onus on the actors who play Donelle Woolford, I perceived an opportunity for exposure for them. I think this is part of what makes this so interesting. As a wise friend of mine once observed, it is hard to tell “who’s zooming who.” Might the actors have the last laugh if they got the chance?

  11. you did it for the LULZ and you got them. Look at these comments. hahahah. Well played. I agree, this is a work of art in its own right.

  12. It worked precisely BECAUSE the standard less, overly anti-“paternalistic” art establishment was so flabby. Both this piece and much of the socially “inclusive” artwork is superficial and lacking solid truth or beauty.

  13. Pieces like this are why I read Hyperallergic more than any other source for art criticism. Thanks for having the guts to deal with substantive issues in art. Someone has to.

  14. Recapping the wins
    1. Joe Scanlan got catfished
    2. White, male, supremacy in the art world was brilliantly translated first by Eunsong Kim & Maya Mackrandilal in the New Inquiry and then by Ryan Wong
    3. The Whitney Museum of American Art was effectively infiltrated, as evidenced by the defensive anons in the comments section here

  15. Sorry Mr. Wong, you almost had us going… Please disregard the antics of this confused writer.

  16. And yet its now just an asian male using black women as props rather than a white male using black women as props. Either way.. black women are STILL being used as props by men looking to jumpstart their own careers.

  17. I was unaware of this until now… I was at Yale at the time Joe was there too and I recall one of his lectures about his project…it’s so weird that all of this has happened now…we KNEW then that this was very very icky and it felt icky…the way he presented it as some kind of meta conceptual project was maybe the worst…in crits he loved the idea of the “end game” the conceptual, academic pushing of in-the know boundaries. This strategy of offending people by pushing racist boundaries prevents instant criticism because it is built to appear as though you are the uncool person with the thin skin who can’t get with the times. “Why so serious”? “It’s a joke, silly!!!” That is a very old-school form of bullying.

    The story gels with what Coco Fusco said in her piece, he was making this bland work and needed a backstory so he made up a black woman (??/!!! WTF) because he felt that the Yale minority students and alumni at the time were getting institutional respect that HE was not getting as “Joe Scanlan”…I think everyone has said better than me, there is nothing to add to this other then some back story.

    The story of Michelle Grabner is they are old friends – Joe was a curator in Chicago before and that is where they know each other from. I recall him floating at out student meetings her name so we could think of “inviting” her for our artist lecture series (grad students alone pick and invite artists for lectures) and I remember it because I looked her up and I was like “no”. There were other artists we liked better to invite so we passed on the “suggestion”. I remembered this incident when I saw his name at the artist’s list for the biennial.

    It’s ironic that people are painting him as “privileged”because at school he presented himself as a working class type of male artist, he did not see himself as ” privileged Yalie” although he yearned to be respected by and chums with artists he liked that were visiting artists, such as Liam Gillick. He was an assistant professor at the time, and it was obvious that he censored himself at times because he didn’t have job security like Jessica Stockholder (The former department head and tenured professor who left Yale a few years ago) did. I think he is the head at Princeton so he has more power, which is something he always enjoyed.

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