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The Baltimore Museum of Art (photo by Mike Steele, via Flickr)

BALTIMORE — “A museum is a place where racism and sexism is on full display,” said artist Shinique Smith. “You can see this in any institution in any part of the world.” Smith, an internationally known painter and sculptor based in New York and Los Angeles, who has works in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Rubell Collection, the Whitney Museum, and numerous others, grew up in Baltimore and recalled the profound influence of the Baltimore Museum of Art on her development as an artist. “When I grew up, there was no contemporary wing at the BMA, so I grew up looking at Henri Matisse and Romare Bearden there.” When she grew older and became a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), she recalled seeing Robert Rauschenberg’s “Canyon” at the BMA as a primary influence over her own abstract and bundled fiber works.

These recollections were part of a series of conversations I had recently with artists, curators, and museum professionals, after the Baltimore Museum of Art announced last month that it would be diversifying its collection to enhance visitor experience through recent acquisitions of works by women and artists of color and by deaccessioning repetitive works. The announcement read:

The funds raised will be used exclusively for the acquisition of works created from 1943 or later, allowing the museum to strengthen and fill gaps within its collection. During the same meeting, the trustees approved the acquisition of nine works by contemporary artists Mark Bradford, Zanele Muholi, Trevor Paglen, John T. Scott, Sara VanDerBeek, and Jack Whitten, several of which are the first by the artist to enter the collection.

The seven works marked for deaccession will be sold at auction or in private sales. They include a Franz Kline, two by Kenneth Noland, a Jules Olitski, a Rauschenberg, and two pieces by Andy Warhol. The museum said that it has followed the guidelines established by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD).

“These men that we are talking about deaccessioning, I looked at them growing up because I had to,” Smith recalled. “In terms of growing up in the art world, I had to do extra research beyond the museum to find artists of color. This move is a correction and, for the demographics in Baltimore, it makes sense. The museum should be for everybody and should reflect the diversity of Baltimore.”

I agree with Smith. When I read the release, I thought very little about it initially because our cultural institutions, especially museums, are obviously lagging in their missions to present and collect the most significant works of art of our time. Why wouldn’t you sell off redundant works, deemed to be lesser in value than similar works in the museum holdings, in order to buy others by underrepresented contemporary artists?

Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963–2017 installation at the Baltimore Museum of Art (photo by Mitro Hood, courtesy the Baltimore Museum of Art)” width=”720″ height=”481″ srcset=”https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-jack-whitten-720×481.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-jack-whitten-1080×721.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-jack-whitten-360×240.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-jack-whitten.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 720px) 100vw, 720px”>

Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963–2017 installation at the Baltimore Museum of Art (photo by Mitro Hood, courtesy the Baltimore Museum of Art)

Smith’s statement reinforced my own experiences with the BMA over the past 20 years. Until this past year, the museum had hosted just one major, ticketed exhibition with a catalogue devoted to a woman or an artist of color — Joyce J. Scott: Kickin’ it with the Old Masters in 2000. In a city that is more than 60% African American, the news that the museum will sell redundant works by white men to purchase new works by women and artists of color is a no-brainer. For me, the more interesting story is a broader move by the museum, which has embraced a number of artists of color in the past year, hosting exhibits by Senga NegudiMeleko MegosiAl Loving, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Stephen Towns, and a Jack Whitten exhibition that will travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with an Amy Sherald exhibition in the works for 2020. However, the news quickly ignited controversy and sparked discussions of widespread changes in museum culture that should be, in my view, ubiquitous.

*  *  *

After a Baltimore Sun article that explicitly linked the upcoming sale of art by white men with the purchase of works by women and people of color, some critics took it further, likening the practice to historical affirmative action at its worst. In a Baltimore Sun op-ed, David Maril, president of the Herman Maril Foundation and the artist’s son, wrote:

The use of deaccession — selling seven paintings to achieve this goal of supporting local and regional contemporary art — is a horrendous decision. What is especially troubling is the somewhat jubilant and self-righteous tone surrounding what the museum is doing. Never mind the positive a spin the BMA puts on this decision such as insisting it’s conducting routine museum business. Nothing could be further from reality.

Tyler Green, the producer and host of the Modern Art Notes Podcast, tweeted his concern that the BMA was not following AAM guidelines regarding deaccessioning, writing: “It’s by a man, so we’ll sell it even tho it’s a great artwork.” A subsequent tweet read: “I’d like to know where in AAM’s guidelines it says that deaccessioning motivated by gender is a best or even sanctioned practice.” Though the BMA’s press release announcing the deaccessioning doesn’t offer much insight into the process that led to the selection of the seven works to be sold, neither it nor the Baltimore Sun‘s report suggests that the motivation was the artists’ gender. Museum staff “discovered areas of repetition” in the collection, the BMA announcement states, and “in each case, the museum currently holds stronger works by the same artist, and in some cases, more significant versions from the same series or stage of the artist’s career.”

Stephen Towns: Rumination and a Reckoning installation at the Baltimore Museum of Art (photo by Mitro Hood, courtesy the Baltimore Museum of Art)” width=”720″ height=”481″ srcset=”https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-stephen-towns-install-720×481.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-stephen-towns-install-1080×721.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-stephen-towns-install-360×240.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-stephen-towns-install.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 720px) 100vw, 720px”>

Stephen Towns: Rumination and a Reckoning installation at the Baltimore Museum of Art (photo by Mitro Hood, courtesy the Baltimore Museum of Art)

“Deaccessions are often controversial, but the changes they bring can be good,” said Taína Caragol, curator of Latino art and history at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. “The Baltimore Sun reported that the BMA has 90 works by Andy Warhol, two dozen by Rauschenberg, and about a dozen by Kline. The museum’s leadership has studied the issue carefully for a year and a consensus has been reached with the staff and community members that allows for more, valued artists to have a place in their collection. As curators and museum professionals, we have to keep questioning the canon, and with this let it evolve and welcome new voices. We want to see new artworks by both historic and new artists who should be better known. Deaccessioning these works creates space and raises funds for unseen artworks, without diminishing the BMA’s collection of postwar art.”

Smith concurred. “There is so much involved in how museums acquire works,” she said. “Over the past few decades, most of the people on acquisitions committees have been wealthy white people who might not be versed in works by people of color or women. The museums reflected the art world and this is a progressive move that takes us in a more historically accurate direction.” She applauded the announcement, adding that it seems directly tied to new leadership, namely the museum’s new director, Christopher Bedford, who started in September 2016.

Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963–2017 installation at the Baltimore Museum of Art (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)” width=”360″ height=”480″ srcset=”https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-jack-whitten-2018-360×480.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-jack-whitten-2018-720×960.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-jack-whitten-2018-1080×1440.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-jack-whitten-2018.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 360px) 100vw, 360px”>

Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963–2017 installation at the Baltimore Museum of Art (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

“Our commitment to achieving equity and historical accuracy in the way we narrate the history of postwar art has been made manifest from the first acquisitions we made after I assumed the directorship of the BMA,” said Bedford. “Mark Bradford, Sharon Lockhart, Norman Lewis, John Scott, Wangechi Mutu, Jack Whitten, Zanele Muholi, Jeff Donaldson — to name only a few purchases made in the last 15 months.”

One curator I spoke to, who refused to be named for this story, questioned the relationship between the sales of the seven works and the way the funds raised would be used in the future. Asked about the implied relationship between the upcoming auctions and whether there was an explicit guarantee that money will be spent on works by diverse artists, Bedford elaborated on how the funds will be used.

“Of the seven objects being sold, proceeds from the two Warhols will be put in a donor-mandated spend down fund, meaning that we will not treat those proceeds as an endowment,” he explained. “Rather, it is the wish of the donor to see those monies spent rapidly on a list of works we have already identified as meeting the criteria articulated above. That list was developed by a team of curators including Katy Siegel and Kristen Hileman with oversight and input from me. It is the donor’s wish that we make headway on our mission rapidly, and the condition they have placed on their support makes this inevitable.”

Bedford added that the remaining proceeds from the sales will be used to create an endowment from which the museum will draw annually to purchase postwar art. He said the fund will “substantially increase the BMA’s capacity to build its collection, making us a truly competitive force in the broader ecology of contemporary collecting.”

*  *  *

Thus far, the response to the BMA’s announcement, especially from curators and artists of color, has been overwhelmingly positive. “Chris Bedford is demonstrating what should happen in museums and cultural institutions in the 21st century,” according to Dr. Leslie King Hammond, former dean at MICA and a nationally known curator. “You have to be bold, be a visionary. You have to step forward and make what are sometimes misconstrued as radical decisions, when in fact it’s just addressing the overall quality, content, and intent of the institution’s role in community. He is looking at the landscape of museum culture with fresh eyes, and not repeating ubiquitous knee jerk decisions made in the past.”

Front Room: Njideka Akunyili Crosby / Counterparts installation at the Baltimore Museum of Art (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)” width=”720″ height=”475″ srcset=”https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-crosby-cara-ober-720×475.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-crosby-cara-ober-1080×713.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-crosby-cara-ober-360×238.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-crosby-cara-ober.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 720px) 100vw, 720px”>

Front Room: Njideka Akunyili Crosby / Counterparts installation at the Baltimore Museum of Art (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

“Historically, artworks by women, people of color, LGBTQ, and other marginalized people have been underrepresented in almost every art institution’s exhibitions and collection,” said Njideka Akunyili Crosby, whose solo show at the BMA, Counterparts, closed in March. “Making a commitment to acquire works by these artist demographics is a good thing, to be sure; however, the BMA’s decision to sell notable works by white men in order to fund such acquisitions is a great, radical thing — it demonstrates a deep conviction to do what it can to right a widespread historical wrong/imbalance.”

Crosby, a Nigerian and American artist who recently won a MacArthur Fellowship, added: “What’s more, this planned action amounts to an unequivocal statement that these soon-to-be-acquired works are important, that they matter. I hope other institutions follow the BMA’s exemplary decision and pursue the same goal of broader inclusivity in their collections.”

“My colleagues (past and present) and I continually think about the relationship between the contemporary and historical parts of the museum’s collection and exhibitions, and how they relate to the city of Baltimore,” said Kristen Hileman, the BMA’s Senior Contemporary Curator since 2009, who curated Crosby’s solo exhibition — a show planned years in advance of the museum’s recent series of shows by women and people of color.

Hileman said that Crosby’s show reflects a unique voice based on her life as an immigrant who married a white American and is now a mother. The works also reflect the current political climate, expressed through personal symbols including a Colin Kaepernick figurine in one of her interior scenes. Hileman said that Crosby’s paintings “help us understand the BMA’s collection better, teaching us about techniques of painting used by French artists in the Cone Collection and at the same time making us aware of the general absence of black artists, black figures, and representations of non-Eurocentric histories throughout the museum’s galleries.”

Joyce J. Scott: Kickin’ it with the Old Masters installation at the Baltimore Museum of Art (photo courtesy the Baltimore Museum of Art)” width=”720″ height=”444″ srcset=”https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-joyce-scott-720×444.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-joyce-scott-600×371.jpg 600w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-joyce-scott-1080×666.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-joyce-scott-360×222.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/bma-deaccession-joyce-scott.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 720px) 100vw, 720px”>

Joyce J. Scott: Kickin’ it with the Old Masters installation at the Baltimore Museum of Art (photo courtesy the Baltimore Museum of Art)

However, others expressed skepticism about the motives behind the BMA’s move, noting that there are still major gaps in inclusivity and equity among its board and staff. “It takes time and the will to admit exclusions made and the force to follow through with meaningful change,” said Joyce J. Scott, a MacArthur Fellow and lifelong Baltimore resident. “I’m sure some feel by evolving into a more inclusive realm, the prior work will be seen as less worthy, outdated, or just no good. The actual work will tell the truth.”

*  *  *

Stephen Towns, “Black Sun” (2016) (courtesy of the artist; photo by Joseph Hyde)

If we can learn anything from the overwhelming success of the recent movie Black Panther, which delivered a succinct and searing critique of hypocritical white museum culture, it’s that American audiences are hungry for diverse stories and characters. Audiences of color have been systematically kept out of mainstream culture since the inception of our country, and representation — actually seeing someone that looks like you, finally, on a big screen or museum wall — means a great deal.

For those who believe the BMA is somehow sacrificing quality for diversity, you need not look any further than the diverse roster of artists, both internationally known and based in Baltimore, that is now populating the BMA’s galleries. Bedford likened the changes to the visionary collectors whose holdings are now the BMA’s most valuable works: sisters Etta and Claribell Cone, who were early supporters of Matisse, Picasso, Degas, and others well before their works were considered valuable.

“Our desire to achieve a new relevance in the 21st century in a black majority city does not mean we are leaving our past greatness behind,” said Bedford. “Rather, we are building on the BMA’s historical investment in present-ness and contemporary art by engaging the greatest artists of the 21st century, many of whom are black Americans, to define a new golden era for the BMA. The Cone sisters did just that when they built and then donated their collection to the Museum. Building on their legacy, we are building a Cone Collection for the 21st century to ensure that we remain on the cutting edge of relevance.”

This movement may set the BMA apart from others going forward, if funds from the deaccessioning are used the way they’re supposed to be. Although her work has not been collected by the BMA, Shinique Smith still feels a strong connection to her hometown and hopes the museum will go even further in diversifying its collection.

Head Back & High: Senga Nengudi, Performance Objects (1976–2015) installation at the Baltimore Museum of Art (photo by Mitro Hood, courtesy the Baltimore Museum of Art)

“I was at the Museum of Modern Art a few weeks ago, happy to see the Adrian Piper retrospective,” Smith said. But when she wandered into a permanent collection gallery, she said, “my heart just fell a little. In that room, the conversation was still dominated by white men. There have always been women and artists of color who were under-recognized, and these museums own more of their works, but there were barely any up. … I know MoMa and BMA could do more and are now striving to do so.”

Dr. King Hammond takes it a step further, contending that the issue of selling works by white male artists and purchasing works by women and artists of color is an essential first step in building a culture of inclusivity and relevance at the Baltimore museum. “This is about preserving the integrity of the institution, being the protectors and stewards of the culture of our nation,” said King Hammond. “How many white males do we need? How many times can we hear the same story? Right now, so many voices are missing. They could deaccession more and make a real impact on the institution, to change how culture sees itself, full of diverse and complementary stories, but if you don’t sell the works, you don’t have the resources. It’s time to open up the playing field and get new players on the field.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized comments made on Twitter regarding the BMA’s deaccessioning process. It has been revised to correctly incorporate those comments.

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19 replies on “Artists and Curators Weigh In on Baltimore Museum’s Move to Deaccession Works by White Men to Diversify Its Collection”

  1. Deaccessioning should never be undertaken lightly, but it seems like this process was carried out with the utmost care and thoughtfulness. Further, I think the museum’s decision to deaccession works by some of the biggest names in their collection – rather than more obscure figures who haven’t enjoyed quite the same hegemony – was absolutely the right one. The reputation of important artists like Kline, Rauschenberg, and Warhol is in no way threatened by this action, and visitors to the museum still be able to see their work there. Olitski and Noland make sense in a slightly different way: they too are important, but not quite as important as certain influential art critics of the ’60s and ’70s thought they were. I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of museums have many more works by those two than is necessary for a representative showing.

    Of course, tastes may change again, and a future generation may esteem Olitski and Noland more highly than we do now, but that’s always a risk, and a fundamental uncertainty of collecting. (In any case, the museum will still have works by them – just not quite so many.) Collecting museums have a responsibility to consider the future, but they are equally responsible to the present. Collecting, exhibiting, and supporting non-white artists is a crucial task right now, and this kind of deaccessioning to enable those goals is an acceptable compromise.

  2. There are many question raised by Baltimore’s decision, mostly at the level of the Board’s acquiescence to its director’s radical approach to building the collection and dereliction of its own responsibility to safeguard a public collection held in public trust. No one questions the need of Baltimore, and indeed for most American collecting institutions, to increase the representation of minorities and women artists, especially going forward when so many of the best living artists are, indeed, women and artists of color. Retrospectively collecting to correct imbalances is also an important curatorial responsibility. However, un-doing the past seems both short-sighted and probably a fool’s errand. I would be surprised if any artist of consequence considers any single work by their hand to be “repetitive” or “redundant.” If space is needed to accommodate newer acquisitions, storage is there for a reason. Or, in recognition of making art widely accessible–one of the modern museum’s most important mandates–arrange to put works on long-term loans to other museums where such works might be welcomed and available to new audiences. Current trends and more enlightened policies notwithstanding, there seems to be a readiness on the part of the current generation of directors and curators to reverse what preceding professionals believed was important to collect in depth and widely, at a different moment and for different reasons. Noland and Olitski are a case in point. Yes, their work has fallen out of favor among younger curators and critics (though, not, I would argue among many artists); but Noland seems particularly relevant to a collection whose foundational origins include the Cone sisters and their love of Matisse. As a central figure from the nearby Washington Color School, Noland has regional significance as well. Do we know which works by Noland and Olitski are being sold and how they compare to other (“repetitive”?) works by the same artists in the collection? Curatorial judgment in the present moment seems fraught if these curators do not have a deep understanding of these artists and their particular and pivotal place in post-War American art history.

    Returning to the role of Baltimore’s Board. Yes, they should charge the staff with building the collection to be more inclusive of today’s changing and diverse art scene. They should also be prepared to raise the financial resources necessary to make this happen including endowments to cement their own view of what is necessary and important to collect. The current urge to hurriedly reverse the thinking and efforts of our predecessors can make for ugly, self-aggrandizing policy–as seen in efforts to unravel Obama’s legacy in American politics–maybe something to keep in mind? Expanding a collection to address past deficiencies is laudable; how that happens should be something the Board addresses with their own pocket book and not on the backs of artists no longer able to argue for their own historical relevance. Adding private collectors to the Board who focus more broadly and collect women and minority artists, as well as women artists and artists of color is another way that museums can and should address the problem; the Cone sisters would likely agree.

    1. Thank, you Chris. You expressed my own views exactly, and far more eloquently than I possibly could have.

    2. ” If space is needed to accommodate newer acquisitions, storage is there for a reason.”
      As a lifelong museum professional, I can assure you this is absolutely not true. Storage has always, and will continue to be a serious, practical, ongoing issue but is largely and often disregarded due to other priorities at an institution. I have seen collections staff storage sacrificed for event and catering storage because it generates revenue.
      It is quite normal for any institution to reassess its collection and deaccession works that are deemed “superfluous.” Space is not unlimited, but in fact at a premium for institutions wishing to grow their collection and energize their galleries.
      As for the board, they are approving- and likely motivating- these decisions. The “pocket book” of which you speak, the collections fund of the museum, is contributed to partly by trustees, rather than buying a work to be foisted upon the collection as you suggest- they are sitting on the same deaccessioning/acquisitions committees which approve decisions by consensus. If a donor/ trustee gifts a work, it still must be approved by committee, and all objects in the collection are subject to restrictions based on their provenance.
      “The backs of artists no longer able to argue for their own historical relevance” is exactly the point of this narrative- once works become part of the museum’s collection it is their responsibility to decide what story to tell- not for the artist. If these artists are already well-represented in the collection, they are obviously not being left out of anything.

      1. Storage is, of course, part of the deaccessioning equation. My real concern, though, is that deaccessions are irreversible and results (usually) in the removal of works that someone once valued enough to make available to the public. Whoever makes these decisions needs to carefully consider that taking away public access to works of art is contrary to the fundamental purpose of museums. If Baltimore wants to add works by women and minorities, I am all for it. Just know that collecting artists’ work in depth has its own compelling rationale and all factors require thoughtful, deep, thorough consideration. The exigencies of the moment have a way of becoming history’s sighs of regret.

        1. And “collecting artists’ work in depth,” can also create a monopoly of works centered in one space, that deny education about the artist in other parts of the world and new perspectives in research. It does sound as though Baltimore did a great deal of reflection and research before choosing to sell these particular works.

          1. The Andy Warhol Museum? The Clyfford Still Museum? The Whitney Museum’s Hopper holdings? One can argue that these and other institutions holding an artist’s work in depth further research and provide opportunities for education unavailable elsewhere. Again, my point is not Baltimore’s laudable motivations, its their means to a worthy end. Boards–let me repeat that–Boards need to step up and open their wallets before treating permanent collections as the museum’s private ATM. Saturn’s children and all that…

        2. I am enjoying this discussion, largely because the points of disagreement are being expressed with such civility, focusing on the issues, not those commenting-thanks for that.
          My thought, in response to Chris’s last comment “…removal of works that someone once valued enough to make available to the public…” is that that “someone” was likely another curator, director, Board member, donator, or combination of same, yes? And, why did they value it? In what context? If, at that time (whenever that was) that work by that artist was considered important enough to acquire to reflect/deepen the holdings of the Museum, isn’t the decision it is making now another step in adjusting and rebalancing its collection to continue to advance that depth? Isn’t the job of the Museum to keep its holdings as deep, broad, fully represntative, and as important as funds will allow? It sounds as if BMA chose carefully, not to “cheapen” their holdings of these 7 artists but, perhaps, to make them more potent by paring down to the better/best of them in order to fill important holes where their collection is weak.
          Since storage is, indeed, at a premium, and it is expensive to hold a collection in storage doesn’t this allow the works marked for deaccession to perhaps be hung elsewhere? And, since collections have to evolve to best represent artists who weren’t born (!) and/or weren’t included for other reasons, such as gender and race, and whose works are now understood to be important both in terms of an evolving canon and a regional (i.e. Baltimore in this case) presence doesn’t it not only make sense, but reflect vision, to make the decision BMA has made? (whew, long sentence). In another generation (or less) the next Director/curatorial team will look again and adjust again…if and as needed. I expect this of those “entrusted” to oversee the Museum-experts to do their job and trustees/donors to do their$.

          1. The lens of right now seems always too close to see any complex issue clearly and in the context of nuanced considerations. My sense of the Baltimore dilemma is that museums today should use their own mission, special circumstances and history to guide their futures, plural as they may be. Second, museums should only undertake actions that cannot be undone with trepidation. I suspect that while we differ on methodology, we agree with the general impetus to improve and expand the collection to be more inclusive.

  3. > “A museum is a place where racism and sexism is on full display,” said artist Shinique Smith…who has works in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Rubell Collection, the Whitney Museum, and numerous others,

    Totally agree with this. Her work is terrible and would never be in those collections were she not a black woman. Black artists who make bland, decorative, wallpaper abstractions (Julie Mehretu, Lisa Corinne Davis, Mark Bradford, etc) can basically get limousine service anywhere in the art world. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to deaccession surplus of certain artists to build a better collection, especially given that, say, 90 Warhols will never be on view at the same time – most museum works stay in storage – but don’t kid yourself that buying up anything marketed as intersectional is smart collecting. Politics come and go; yet the art still has to be good.

    1. Plenty of white artists make bad art, too, which is nonetheless acquired by museums, giving it the imprimatur of quality and significance. Trying to judge the value of art produced in one’s own time will always be an imperfect undertaking, subject to later revision, the vicissitudes of fashion and taste, and politics. So your point is exactly what? It is not merely an issue of marketing to question how the narrative arc of art history is told through a museum’s collection. It goes much deeper than that.

  4. “A museum is a place where racism and sexism is on full display,” said artist Shinique Smith. “You can see this in any institution in any part of the world.” If the Taliban can destroy the Buddha statues in the Bamyan valley and ISIS can ravage historic ruins, then surely all history is worth erasing for a good cause, a righteous cause? If all of humanity is guilty of racism and sexism, then how shall we punish our parents and grandparents? That is a serious question. There is not a single person alive today whose ancestors did not own slaves at some point in history, and humanity has a long history. How can we hate and punish the wrong done to us, forgetting the wrong we’ve done to others? That said, Baltimore being 60% African Americans, it makes sense local culture should have a local voice and the collection to be supportive. Nor is the collection decreased by this deaccessioning.

  5. Andy Warhol was gay and very unclosed. To my 60’s generation he was a courageous pioneer with his camp sensibility as well as his art, and a very witty guy to boot. Ninety is a big number of works, but he could be considered a minority. Also the Baltimore Museum is shockingly great, I am not against this idea of selling. I hope the new works are chosen with a very smart eye. Faith Ringgold story quilts come to mind as a wise choice as well as James Kerry Marshall and Glen Ligon…. and ask black people especially women who to acquire, Yes, ask women and people of color who to acquire!

    1. Just an FYI: The BMA’s holdings already include a Ringgold and a Ligon. I do not know if they own a Marshall, but they have exhibited his paintings at least twice.

  6. Yet again Eskimo artists have been left out of the diversification movement in the art world 2018. I have visited hundreds of museums and can’t recall ever seeing a contemporary work of art by an Eskimo artist in a museum collection. Groups today seeking inclusion give lip service to diversity but until someone gives his or her museum spot to an Eskimo artist no real progress has been made. Or, maybe it is time to stop looking at the artists and start looking at the art.

    1. Though I haven’t visited it in a long time, the Denver Museum of Art does a good job integrating works by living Native American artists with historical works by the same.

  7. You need a correction, the BMA had a major Kerry James Marshall exhibition in the early aughts.

    1. Hi Rob,

      Thanks for your comment about the Kerry James Marshall show ‘One True Thing: Meditations on Black Aesthetics.’

      The highly specific distinction attributed in the article to the Judith Scott show in 2000 is that until recently it was the only “major, ticketed exhibition with a catalogue devoted to a woman or an artist of color” at the BMA. This pretty startling fact was verified by both the BMA’s director and its communications department, so the KJM show must not have required its own ticket for entry, and/or the BMA did not produce a catalogue for it (the latter seems particularly probable, since it was organized by the MCA Chicago).

      Best,
      Ben

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