Sunday, February 26, 2006

Black Factory, come to Richmond?

Last week I read about William Pope L.'s national spring performance tour, The Black Factory, on Art Fag City. I'm not sure what this is or what they do, but I hope they will consider a stop in Richmond.

THE POPULATION OF RICHMOND IS ALMOST 60% BLACK, but where are the black artists?

- at the crowded opening reception of the current Anderson Gallery exhibitions the only black person I saw was also the only uniformed person I saw - the guy pouring the wine.

- did you see Clarke Bustard's short February 15th round-up of the February black shows? Did it make you feel queasy too?

- the only black staff or faculty I can recall meeting in three years of visiting VCU's Fine Arts Building have been uniformed security and custodial staff, and one departmental secretary. As far as I know, none of the four departments in that building had a single recent black faculty member, adjunct or otherwise, until this school year's hiring of Sanford Biggers in the Sculpture Department and Sonya Clark as head(!) of the Crafts Department. Okay, so that now makes two black faculty members out of about fifty-four total.

- also can't think of a single black graduate student in the 2004, 2005, or 2006 graduating classes, of any of those departments. Were there any? Are there any amongst the current group of first-year grad students, the class of 2007?

The painting department is the department I am most familiar with and I'm pretty sure that for the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 classes there are no black students at all, out of a total of maybe thirty-two kids. Somebody please tell me I am mistaken.

Something is very wrong here, or maybe not just here but everywhere. How many black painters have been featured on PainterNYC? Laylah Ali is the only one that I know of, and does she even live in NYC? I'm NOT trying to pick on VCU and definitely not the excellent PainterNYC with this post, but Edna's righteous anger at gender disparity has got me wondering about who is really really really missing.

These are probably the only local black artists that have been featured on this blog - this anonymous artist and Hylah Wright, neither in gallery shows and I don't even know for sure if either one of them is black. If they aren't black then there have been probably ZERO local black artists looked at in almost eighteen months of doing this blog, in a city that is almost 60% black.

What is going on? How fucked up are we?

Emma Amos - "I think it's a political statement for an artist, for a black artist, to walk into the studio, because basically, nobody gives a damn."


Anonymous said...

I love the Black Factory so much.

But - I want to spend a second trying to reframe your discussion about the problem of diverse representation among art faculty and gallery exhibitions, etc.

Are black children in our society encouraged to learn about art or pursue art past a certain age? Is there incentive for them to pursue lifelong activity in art? Is ethnicity the only factor in this problem?

As someone who was raised below poverty level, (but fortunately made a few weird and irresponsible decisions that led me to a better understanding of 'the arts') I can assure you that sitting around drawing when your family wants you to get a job and help out does not often result in praise, support, or even tolerance within the family unit -- and that's way more formative an experience than whatever the ethnicity ratios are at a school or in some gallery that poor kids might never even go to anyway.

I think it is a class issue, as much as it is an ethnic one. As long as blacks in america are still disporportionately poorer than everyone else, then we will continue to have this problem.

Anonymous said...

Art pretends to be a populist sport. It goes to great lengths to put on a show and be of the people and for the people. It might be great PR, but it simply isn't true. Art is produced by people who are willing to commit a lot of time and money to an activity which the majority of the population deems as purely frivolous, and an activity that the gatekeepers pride as being exclusive with high barriers to entry; as one example among many, can you say the same for basketball and have it mean the same thing? Which is cheaper, a Spaulding leather ball or a set of poor-quality oil colors and some careful instruction on how to use them? What's the ratio of art-teachers to athletics coaches in your average high school? Walk into any poor neighborhood and you'll see that attitude rise exponentially, and who's to say that it's wrong?

Martin, if you want to teach black people to appreciate art then step away from your ramblings, teach school in Carver or Northside and try to gain some real appreciation of your surroundings. And quit using VCU as a straw man, it's getting pretty sad...

Anonymous said...

Youre right - its not a case of art schools or institutions being hostile to African-Americans (if anything, I think some less-than-great work gets lauded when it's by a minority). It's thats few African-Americans are going into art, and those that do teach at Yale or wherever where they don't have to live in ther South. I'm sure VCU tries to get diverse faculty, it's just there aint enough togo around.

Ps Laylah teaches at Williams in Mass., or at least did until recently.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2 - i'm not saying that i want to teach anybody anything, i'm just noticing and wondering out loud.

and i can't help but frequently use vcu as an example when talking about local arts because vcu dominates the local art scene. i think you will see that i write as many, if not more, POSITIVE things about vcu art and artists than negative - but i only get the vcu crowd on here commenting when it is in defensive mode, never a thanks.

is it really only two faculty out of fifty-four? this is 2 fucking thousand 6, i am not using vcu as a straw man. i don't try to address any of the whys in the situation, because there are an overwhelming number of whys, and in asking "how fucked up are we" i am talking about the country, and including myself.

Anonymous said...

It's the nature of humanity. Give congratulations and we all smile warmly and nod silently. Throw a punch, and, well... ruckus.

If you want to make a well-rounded and holistic argument then you need to make a well-rounded and holistic argument and not pigeon-hole singular institutions (almost immediate update: i've changed my mind, i AM trying to pick on VCU here.) and then expect us all to understand that we're talking about "the system" here. You're being inconsistent and I for one am not buying it...

You need to be more careful to base wide assertions on a wider array of facts, and not make it appear that one school is your entire world... Sometimes look outside of the city limits for inspiration? I think that's advice we could all use.

Michael said...


This is a tired refrain but again must be sung: why not come out and say what you have to say under the banner of your own name? Your points- albeit hostile- are valid, and well written, yet they are undermined by your unwillingness to be forthright about not only who they come from, but also where they come from.

Martin has encouraged a dialogue, but what kind of conversation can be had when we are all hiding from one another? To paraphrase Robert Morris- art is dress rehearsal for real life- If we can't talk here (the internet and "around" art) about race, class and institutional inequities, where can we talk? Do we all have that much to lose?

Anonymous said...

There are many black students in the VCU performing arts departments.

Michael McDevitt said...

I gotta step up for some of the black artists that I've seen around Richmond... most of whom are illustrators and hence not REAL artists (wink wink).
Look at some of these sites and see some talent.
http://www.stevenwalkerart.com(Steven Walker teaches in CA and AFO)
http://www.oobust.com/(Eric Collins also teaches classes in AFO)
(Alex Bostic is VCU Faculty)
...and if I'm not mistaken Robert Foster is black and VCU faculty in CA.(http://www.pubinfo.vcu.edu/artweb/communicationarts/bio_foster.asp)

Seems that CA is picking up a bit of slack where the Fine Arts are letting it lag.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #4 - Sometimes look outside of the city limits for inspiration? Do you read this blog often or are you someone in the administration that only comes to it when VCU comes up and you are notified? I guess you didn't see the thing about Jerry Saltz and Columbia a couple weeks ago. Columbia did, I had the law.columbia.edu ISP showing up on my statcounter every day for a week.

There wasn't much of an argument being made here - it was a lament, a listing of observations, an airing of unpleasant facts - and I included MYSELF in the accounting.

Whatever happened to "think
global, act local" anyway?

P.S. - I agree with Michael Lease, couldn't you anonymous' at least come up with nicknames? Are you five different people, three, or the same person five times? The total anonymity definitely lessens the validity of what are sometimes well-reasoned arguments.

Anonymous said...

He talks about this often enough

Hungry Hyaena said...

I think Anonymous #1 hits the nail on the head and Michael #2 provides an interesting follow-up. Above all else, it's an issue of class/economics. For the same reason, contemporary theorists bemoan an absence of black American "intellectuals." (There are considerably more black artists and writers emerging from other cultures.)

Furthermore, all but one of the young (under 40) black artists I know personally considers "fine art" to be bogus, or at least suspect. They are graphic designers, graffiti artists, animators and illustrators. You grow up poor, perhaps, and you become more interested in visceral, immediate communication, not philosophical rumination or formalism.

Anonymous said...

i'm not sure that i think being poor or growing up poor has anything at all to do with the art-making impetus, but it probably has A LOT to do with getting the connections you need to get shown and discussed.

Anonymous said...

Okwui Enwezor (curator: Documenta 11, Johannesburg biennale) and Rene Green are Deans at the San Francisco Art Institute, yet I find it extremely odd that there are only two black grad students. However, we have many International students, hispanic students, asian students, so the program doesn't feel *completely* lilly-white, but.. close.

IMPAQ said...

Great post. Don't agree with all of the responses, but ... certainly makes for interesting conversation.

Anonymous said...

What is up with the athletics bashing? As if athletics didn't take discipline, talent, drive and tons of hard work? There is NOT a whole lotta money being spent in RPS on athletics.The basketballs are falling apart, fields are covered in dogshit and the equipment all fits into a closet the size of my shower...As someone who DOES teach in the RPS I can tell you that most black folks see art as something they wish they could make into a career (art-star as rock-star).Then, they find out they'll need an MFA to get any respect from a gallery, have to compete for residencies to places where they'll be the only or the 'other' minority artist(skowhegan?), and either live off student loans, teach or be servers, is it any wonder we get conciously sidetracked? Also, I see way too many white artists clamoring for props from us for street creds or soo fuckin well read that the opinions they have all get prefaced with quotes. So we teach at RPS cuz white people give up after about four years of it, (maybe because they're so intimidated by a 97% black faculty and 99% black student body) and WE give away our time for artmaking so we can wrestle (and I DO mean literally, wrestle with someone to take away a cell-phone, knife, break up a fight, etc.)with somebody's punk-ass chile hoping to contribute in a more concrete way to our culture. Cuz you know art sure as shit won't do it.

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