Times Critic Caught in This Week’s Witch Hunt

by The AFC Staff on November 27, 2012 · 46 comments Off Our Chest

Installation view of “Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960-1980”

“Black artists didn’t invent assemblage.” That statement, and others like it, written by The New York Times art critic Ken Johnson, has provoked the ire of fellow critics, artists, and Times readers alike. His remarks about two recent exhibitions, Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960-1980 and The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World, have exploded into a tirade across Facebook—with complaints lodged by Kara Walker and Jerry Saltz among others—and now, an anonymous group has gone so far as to petition the Times to “acknowledge and address this editorial lapse and the broader issues raised by these texts.” So, what are these broader issues, and problems, if any?

The main problem Johnson identifies in Now Dig This!, at PS1, is that it divides its viewers by not being relatable enough to those who don’t share the experience of being black in 1960s Los Angeles:

If I am right that most of the work in “Now Dig This!” promotes solidarity, then this poses a problem for its audience. It divides viewers between those who, because of their life experiences, will identify with the struggle for black empowerment, and others for whom the black experience remains more a matter of conjecture. Those who identify may tend to respond favorably to what those viewing from a more distanced perspective may regard as social realist clichés, like the defiant fist.

In other words, without knowing what it’s like to live in Black America, we can’t identify with work that speaks directly to and from Black America. To be fair, Johnson points to some of the assemblage in the show as a generic framework on which to hang meaning; associated with Dada, it reads as playful, but in this show, it represents the suffering of oppression. For examples of artists who manage to communicate without relying on shared experience, he points to artists like Kara Walker and Hennessy Youngman who “complicate how we think about prejudice and stereotyping”, but through a “Hammonsian mode,” speaking to the highly abstracted contemporary art viewer rather than to a specific community of flesh-and-blood victims of oppression.

But what’s so offensive to the petition-writers is the idea that black art needs to be mediated for the white viewer; art, after all, is always in the position of having to mediate an experience for someone else, and complaining about the art’s distance from the viewer negates the potential to engage with its point of view. He identifies David Hammons’ works as the most worthwhile contribution, depicting Hammons as a “Duchampian trickster who toys in surprising ways with signifiers of black culture…on both sides of the racial divide.” But is “Duchampian” really a quality that moves us any closer to a truly black view? And would Duchamp be likewise understandable to someone from a different “more distanced perspective”—i.e., who doesn’t share a background in contemporary art? Johnson himself infers that the art world strongly aligns with a “covert solidarity of liberal white folks.” Does this not reinforce the very logic that’s keeping non-white folks out of the museums?

Moreover, Johnson believes that the exhibition’s paradox rests with a problem of the Modernist tradition: “Herein lies the paradox. Black artists did not invent assemblage,” he writes before moving on to explain the two lineages of assemblage to have emerged during the 20th century: first, the formalist European tradition, and then in the 1960s a more socially-engaged West Coast practice, which would be appropriated, in Johnson’s words, by the emerging social justice movements of the time. It’s unclear why a lack of “invention” makes this a paradox; there’s no paradox in noting that assemblage has been used across time and place.

The best artists Johnson finds in the show, like Hammons, must continue to toe the line between Duchamp and a social realist like Romare Bearden in order to be recognized in the mainstream art world. Johnson didn’t start this embrace of minority artists only when they fit neatly into a Modernist tradition, but he doesn’t disparage it either.

A little over a week after the publication of that review, Johnson struck a nerve yet again with a 118-word preview of The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He suggested that women’s lack of recognition in the art world might have something to do with “the art they tend to make”:

Sexism is probably a good enough explanation for inequities in the market. But might it also have something to do with the nature of the art that women tend to make? Anyone with a theory about that will have a good opportunity to test it at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where “THE FEMALE GAZE: WOMEN ARTISTS MAKING THEIR WORLD,” a show of works by about 150 women, opens on Saturday.

Just by broaching the question that women fail to reach ballooning art market prices based on the “nature” of their art, Johnson validates the idea that this might be a reasonable option for why we need all-women art exhibitions. Worse is the implication of taking the worst stereotype about female art—that there is a “nature” or type—and using it to connect Kara Walker, Cindy Sherman, Shana Moulton, Martha Rosler, Marina Abramovic, your next door neighbor, and your grandmother’s landscape painting.In response to the Internet’s outcry, Johnson remarked on his Facebook page:

It’s been brought to my attention that there has been some discussion of what I wrote about “Now Dig This!” at PS 1 elsewhere on Facebook. Some people were offended by it. Some perceive what I wrote as racist. One particular point of contention has to do with assemblage…I can see how my statement that “Black artists did not invent assemblage” taken out of context seems needlessly provocative. My overall point, however, I think is consistent with Ms. Jones’s [Kellie Jones, the exhibition’s curator] description of the historical and social milieu in which black sculptors were working in Los Angeles in the 1960s.

Fair dues to Johnson— we won’t always be able to understand work that speaks by and from a different perspective. His complaint about the black experience could just as easily be applied to the experience of the 60’s generation, or a protest show, or Minimalism. That’s why we have curators who provide the social and historical framework which is sometimes required to fully understand a work of art.

Expanding the boundaries of what needs to be explained and what can be implied is an important project for art today if it wants to expand its audience, which is predominantly white even as the white majority in the United States dissipates. Attempting to introduce white visitors to art they find irrelevant isn’t a flaw in Dig This!, but rather an inversion of the normal state of attempting to introduce black visitors to art they find irrelevant. Rather than wondering at the size of the gap between how white visitors and black visitors view Dig This!, we should be looking at what can be done—and what has been done, by curator Kellie Jones—to shrink it.

  • Quasimodo

    A critic makes some smart & challenging observations & the PC brigade jumps on his ass. Sheesh! If AFC weren’t such a hall monitor it would defend free discourse w rather more vigor.

  • Steve Locke

    Respectfully, what about asking the “newspaper of record” to address an editorial issue created by one of its writers constitutes a “witch hunt”? This formulation of the petition written by a group of artists-not Paper Monument-is dismissive.

    • Will Brand

      The reference to Paper Monument was a misunderstanding, and has been corrected. We’re sorry about that.

      I’m curious to know what you think about the essay (other than the title) was dismissive. It was essentially the result of boiling down a few hours of arguments, in the office, coming from both sides, based on what we could agree was reasonable. We talked for a while about the petition. This involved a few hours of debating out loud.

  • http://twitter.com/janelane10 jane lane

    Oh, poor Ken Johnson, “caught” in “this week’s witch hunt.” Sorry for wanting art critics to actually think about what they write instead of blithely justifying structural inequality.

    • Will Brand

      Where did Ken Johnson justify any structural inequality? I’m not sure I understand how people are reading these two pieces as suggestive or normative, rather than as mildly disappointed in the factual state of the art world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.kearns.353 David Kearns

    The idea of suggesting “witch hunt” here is beyond the pale absurd. It is almost as ahistorical and willfully ignorant as Ken Johnson’s assertions about assemblage. You guys might consider looking into the history of actual “witch hunts”: medieval, Salem, McCarthyist, etc. before you unleash such a poor analogy for a headline.

    • Will Brand

      Is it only the headline that’s an issue?

      • http://www.facebook.com/david.kearns.353 David Kearns

        “only the headline”…..uh, no. It’s the suggestion/implication/accusation(?) that the concerned parties behind the petition are engaging in a “witch hunt”. That’s a serious charge, and, in this case, totally unfounded.

        • Will Brand

          Right, and that’s in the headline. I’m asking if there’s anything else you’d like to talk about, because the eight big words at the top aren’t really as important to me, you, or the discussion generally as the 1200 words beneath.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=837773 Priya Lal

            The petition is not an attack on Ken Johnson; it is a request to the New York Times to acknowledge concerns about the writing it has published. The New York Times has editorial responsibility for the content it publishes. Art Fag City, likewise, has editorial responsibility for the content it publishes. The “eight big words at the top” are part of this content, and the most visible part of it. In this case, the headline you published is misleading and an indirect attack on the petition. This is why people are focusing on it – it is very, very relevant to the discussion.

          • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

            The petition isn’t specific about how the New York Times should address the writing, so it’s both ineffective as a petition, and easily reads as an attack. That so many commenters on the petition chose to leave name calling comments only re-enforces the point that this perception exists.

            But let’s move on from this. You’ve made your opinions known about the title and they are noted. What are your thoughts on the main text? You’ve made some insightful comments on Ken Johnson’s thread. I’d love see them here too.

          • http://www.facebook.com/donald.frazell Donald Frazell

            There are no “race” relations in the art world, a few tokens to promote ones own supposed liberalism, good taste and “cleverness” is all. But not worth a Southpark episode as its just too silly even for them.
            The “artscene” is nearly pure lily white. Its concerns irrelevant and elitist to those with real issues and families and commitment to improving life for humanity and being one with nature.
            Art to most is the highest common denominator, defining who WE are, not the games, toys and therapy of a secluded and sterilized museo/academic/gallery complex of investment and careerism.
            Catering to a splintered market share is serving your masters, the very “patrons” of the arts who have brought us this depression taht truly does concern people of color and everyone it seems except those in the artscene.
            Divide and rule. Guess who all this chitter chatter serves.
            Art never comes from inside the belly of the beast.

          • Quasimodo

            oK, so, it is a witch hunt, and the art world is hardly lily white. This is not the Pre-Civil Rights era, and people of any identity are welcome to join the art-world fray. Ken advanced an idea, or an argument, that’s all; making any kind of issue about it is silly, stupid and most likely dishonest.

            Is Kara Walker involved in this thing, by the way? The woman who makes what could be called Ante Bellum porn? A supposed critique indistinguishable from complicity? One certainly hopes, if she is, that she supports free intellectual exchange.

          • http://www.facebook.com/donald.frazell Donald Frazell

            Uh, yeah, it is. Look at museum attendance stats especially contempt ones like the Whitney, New and MoCA. Lily white except for the few wannabe artistes who have swallowed the snakeoil and are more into selfish expression, therapy, than true creative art.
            Sorry your analism is so strong, though artworld is truly not a good description as it is far too small and inbred to be a world. Artscene is better, and oops, better separate snakeoilm as humanity has been from art.

          • Quasimodo

            Hey troll I have an idea go fuck yourself or better tell me when & where you will be and I will come and smash in your face with a baseball bat

          • Will Brand

            Relevant to what discussion? There is no discussion here. There is absolutely no discussion in this comments thread. There are, instead, five separate people upset that we might have hurt the feelings of an anonymous essay by calling it a “witch hunt”. We actually barely mention the petition in the body of this piece, which is itself largely an attack on Ken Johnson.

            No one here other than the editors of AFC has shown any interest in discussing the particulars of Ken Johnson’s writing beyond showing their support, in digital signature form, for a petition someone else wrote, anonymously. This is not improving the world. Anonymous bandwagoning and defensiveness will not advance the state of race relations in this country.

          • http://www.facebook.com/david.kearns.353 David Kearns

            Actually, my comment had nothing to do with “hurt feelings”. And, no, honestly I wasn’t looking to “talk” about anything. It was a “comment” posted to “comments”. Seems that the feelings/feathers ruffled are with AFC. Labeling something a “witch hunt” is extreme, unless of course you feel the historical examples I cited are not examples of humanity at its worst.

          • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

            Here at Art Fag City we have a long tradition using “witch hunt” in our titles.

            http://www.artfagcity.com/2009/11/12/the-new-york-museum-director-witch-hunt-begins/

            Back in 2009, commenters were somehow able to get past the historical reference and talk about the issues.

          • http://www.facebook.com/david.kearns.353 David Kearns

            Far be it for me to question the vaunted traditions of “Art Fag City”…..
            ON WITH THE HUNT !!!

          • http://www.facebook.com/brianmoz Brian Fernandes-Halloran

            haha, you just won over this reader

  • http://www.facebook.com/Balhatain Brian Sherwin

    Jerry Saltz does not have much room to talk concerning prejudice… remember — this is the same guy that describes ALL Christians as “Maniacs” and ALL conservatives (not just the Republican variety) as “Maniacs”. Oddly enough, he appears to have an erection for other religions that have close ties to Christianity AND for the ultra-conservative countries that embrace the hardline stances of those religions. He also has a tendency to lump people who live in smaller communities / rural settings together in a negative way (at least the communities in the United States). He is walking contradiction… a hate filled man… a bigot in his own way. He would have done the art world a favor had he never stepped out of his truck. Period.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sean.capone Sean Capone

      Classy as ever, Brian.
      And this has *what* to do with the Ken Johnson situation?
      Don’t you have your own forum that you use to hyperventilate, always inaccurately, about the NY art world?

      • http://www.facebook.com/donald.frazell Donald Frazell

        Brian has it right, but Saltz is all about himself, he loves to draw attention and is like a wimpy Howard stern of art. Takes a firm stand only to have it melt away into obfuscation and sophistry.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Balhatain Brian Sherwin

    I’ll add that I think the mainstream art world in the US (The world of high profile NY galleries, and the like) have a bone to pick with Ken Johnson because he has exposed that ‘world’ before…. suggesting it is a ‘liberal festival’ where ideas are policed — and certain ideas / views expressed in art stand little to no chance of receiving representation or recognition based on conflicts of political / social ideology. In other words, if your art does not ‘shout’ the accepted message… it has little chance of being ‘heard’. He is right.

    • WhitneyKimball

      Yeah, he says as much in the last paragraph of the “Now Dig This!” review, so it’s confusing why he argues for more of the same.

  • Anoka Faruqee

    This open letter should not be construed as a personal attack on Ken Johnson. It does not ask for his resignation, or anything of the sort. If it had, I would not have signed it. Read it. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/nytimes-addresscorrect-ken-johnsons-recent/ The Open Letter is a critique of Ken Johnson’s arguments in the New York Times and is asks the Times to publish a response to the original texts. The letter focuses on the interpretation of the texts and not the intent. I believe that Ken Johnson was actually well-intentioned. I’m deeply troubled by the media and a large number of individuals who trivialize this conversation with their polarizing, name calling comments. It’s unfair and counterproductive to call Ken Johnson a racist. It’s unfair and counterproductive to call the open letter a witch hunt. He wrote some texts whose arguments lacked rigor, and had serious implications. And it’s reasonable that the open letter questions those arguments.

    • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

      He wrote some texts whose arguments lacked rigor, and had serious implications.

      We’ve added our response to what he wrote. What’s yours?

      • http://www.facebook.com/donald.frazell Donald Frazell

        The “artworld’ never lists the evils it has spawned, but sure loves to gossip and feel superior while pointing fingers and never looking into a mirror.
        Those who sign petitions are alway holier than thou. Nothing more useless and easy to do to feel smug, rather than actually Do something that adds to the life of all.

        • Quasimodo

          “artworld” is actually spelled “art world,” by the way

          • Will Brand

            I’m with you that it needs a space, but I always find “artworld” charming because it makes me think of Waterworld. That’s a fitting picture of a world where there’s too much art but none of it’s fresh.

          • Quasimodo

            Makes sense, & u did put in the quotes!

    • Will Brand

      I notice yours was one of the first names on the petition—did you have anything to do with writing it? I ask because the thing that makes this seem like an attack, to me, is the fact that these concerns are presented as a semi-formal request to Ken Johnson’s editors, rather than as a simple (bylined) essay. That’s a strange way to disagree with someone. To me, going to someone’s boss with a complaint seems like an attack.

      I agree that this has gotten awful polarized awful quick. Some of Johnson’s arguments lacked rigor, and he used ‘paradox’ in the way Alanis Morissette uses ‘ironic’. He also did not sufficiently attack the evils of the art world after describing them. Somehow, from that, we’re getting people signing the petition with shit like “I would hope that the new York times would employ critics who based their opinions on the merits of the work and not color that in the context of race” and “incredibly sexist and racist. gross”.

      I don’t like the way the petition format encourages people to piggyback on a single, imperfect opinion rather than actually stating their own views. I think the petition text itself is fine and reasonable, if a little overblown on a few points. The froth and bile that’s emerged as a result of it, though, is ridiculous.

      • http://www.facebook.com/brianmoz Brian Fernandes-Halloran

        I confess to signing the petition without being as informed as I should have been. With that said, I don’t think going to the NY times and asking them to address something is the same as going to a boss with a complaint, because they are in the business of addressing things. It just happens that the newsworthy issue is coming from someone in their ranks and could make them look bad. The incentive to ignore it could conflict with their mission. A petition can help push them to confront something that is clearly important to people despite the risks involved.
        But if we boil a writer down to a few lines or even articles and throw them on the fire then we really are no better than a bunch of witch hunting dumdums.

  • Nettrice

    Mr. Johnson’s articles do little to address the structural parameters that are set up when a homogenous group has been at the center and don’t automatically engender understanding across forms of difference. Nor do they have to address them. However, the backlash comes at a time when the re-election of a black President has polarized Americans over social issues such as race and representation. In other words, it’s about the timing as much as it is about the content of Johnson’s reviews. The backlash has further highlighted the ongoing crisis of representation in cultural institutions in the United States.

    Robin Pogrebin’s NYT article (2010), “Brooklyn Museum’s Populism Hasn’t Lured Crowds,” criticized museums for lowering their standards to create more diversity. For me, this editorial called the underrepresentation of minorities in the arts into question, asking: How can and should we address cultural issues in institutions? In the media? We certainly don’t address them by adding more fuel to the fire: Most people are angry for a reason. What has been interesting is the diversity of voices that are in support of the petition and letter. The letter wasn’t asking Johnson to address structural inequalities in the art world; it’s asking the NYT to address it in it’s decision making. Why is white ignorance or arrogance okay in reviewing visual artists of color?

    • Quasimodo

      White ignorance? Why not just tell the fucking crackers to go fuck themselves & leave it at that? The stupid thing about it is that we’re all trapped in a racist system that no one made and no one likes – at least no one reading this thread. So, what to do about it? Why, try to fuck each other up whenever possible! It’s like two Semitic tribes in the Mideast, shooting rockets at each other! It’s a failure of leadership there, and a failure of the art world as well. This is too obvious to even have to say, ou dumb asses.

      • http://www.facebook.com/donald.frazell Donald Frazell

        Those who are on this page do support the system, they just want it to be about themselves and not what is written about, its the narcissistic artiste way. tear it down or just ignore it and create way from it. Contempt “art” has been used to separate the supposed elite, the nouveau riche, from the holoi poloi for decades now. It is the worship of the individual Meism, not defining who WE are. How well the piece works, yes a verb as art triggers mind body and soul connecting to more, is how good it is.

      • Nettrice

        To answer your question: “So, what to do about it?” My answer to that is: Challenge it! The petition is one way to challenge this issue. It gets people together (the petition’s supporters are diverse), i.e. to focus on an issue that is not about trying to “fuck each other up.” Personally, I’m tired of being “underrepresented” all the time. I would love to walk in a room at a conference or exhibition and think, ‘Gee, everyone is represented here.” Very seldom does this happen and it’s the cavalier attitude (“It doesn’t impact me directly, so why should I do anything?”) that perpetuates the problem.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

    Quasimodo has been blacklisted. If you want to participate in the comment section, try to keep the swearing down to a minimum, and avoid death threats.

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.kearns.353 David Kearns

      Sounds like a “WITCH HUNT” to me.

      • http://www.facebook.com/david.kearns.353 David Kearns

        • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

          Give it up.

          • http://www.facebook.com/david.kearns.353 David Kearns

            COLD DAY IN HELL….CHEERS.

  • http://twitter.com/sarahrthibault Sarah Thibault

    I find Johnson’s blurb about “The Female Gaze” frustrating because it is fairly non-committal and a bit of lazy prose. He writes, “But might it also have something to do with the nature of the art that women tend to make?” suggesting it does, without having to articulate or even worse, defend his opinion. Johnson, are you sexist? Or did you mean something else by “the nature”? Something that is more of a critique of a market that is drawn to spectacle-driven work like that of Hirst and Koons. In that case, you are still lumping women and their art into a category, but at least it would be well-intentioned.

  • Steve Locke

    As one of the authors of the Open Letter housed on the iPetition site, I want to clarify some assumptions. People are saying what we should have done, such as contact the paper directly or write letters or op-eds. We and others have done that. In fact, many people have written to the Times without a response so we decided to write an open letter both so people who shared our concerns would have a place to express that, and so the Times would be encouraged to address this.
    Also, I don’t think the letter is anonymous. It is signed by over 1000 people who agree with it.
    How the Times does that is of course up to them. One idea would be for them to publish our letter.
    We would like to have an organized, respectful discussion of these issues. The open letter is just one part of that larger discussion.
    It is important to emphasize that this is not a personal attack on Ken Johnson. We are not calling for his resignation or his censure. Because the writing in the articles was/is problematic in terms of their foundational assumptions and matters of fact, it was appropriate to contact the paper and its editors. Newspapers correct poorly sourced and inaccurate statements every day. One has to ask, why is arts writing in the Times not subject to the same editorial standards as the rest of the paper?

    • Steve Locke

      They have wifi on planes now!

  • Chris

    I attended the open meeting about this argument tonight, and I was both disappointed and also encouraged by the ability of both parties to speak honestly and openly. As a Mexican artist, I absolutely sympathize with Mr. Johnson’s apparent lack of enthusiasm about art that is mainly about ethnic identity. I think his review was vague and somewhat dismissive, but I didn’t find that there was anything egregiously insulting about it. Many critics have praised the show, and for one critic, albeit an important one, to feel blah about it, is in my opinion not enough reason to draft a petition. I do think that conversation about these things is essential, and that as a white male, Mr. Johnson has inherited a responsibility to be cognizant, sensitive, educated, and eloquent about the injustices that certain cultural groups have endured. That’s just the way it is. That being said, all of the people on the panel, represent, to me, as a young artist, the establishment as well.

    They in turn have a responsibility to acknowledge that although they are banding together to speak for a minority or set of like minded people in academia/the art world, they do not necessarily represent the views of those communities as a whole. As a Mexican and as a person with friends and family in the latin community (as well as people I love dearly in basically every supposed racial category), I can safely say that hyper-sensitivity, overly PC, and overly political reactionary-ism is equally as distasteful and scary to many latinos as an older white guy not choosing his words particularly tactfully. I am not saying that the people who made this petition are being ridiculous or that they don’t have a point, I think their point is a very valid one. However, the way that they went about achieving their point (and I don’t think that you can call it anything other than a fairly passive-agressive attack with a straight face and honest heart) seems like overkill.

    The main reason I was disappointed by the discussion is that unlike a lot of people in my generation, the panelists seemed to purposefully skirt, or at best were unwilling to address the idea, that defining oneself as separate constitutes a kind of racism and clique-ism whether it be by the oppressor or by the oppressed. To allow humor to reign over our sensitivities and thus connect us in laughter, is, I think, important. Mexicans, a peoples with very mixed heritage (including a large number of african descendants), have always been much less sensitive to racially based humor. Does the ability to joke about these categories in itself make us less humane or more divided? For those living in Mexico at least, I would say not. To have double standards in the U.S. is understandable considering the history of America, but at the heart of the matter is not a step in the right direction. I think it’s time for people, especially those in power (and yes, all the people on that panel have a lot of power in their own way) to be open about discussing the fact that more than anything, ethnicity is a lousy construct and a lousy concept when it comes to defining or evaluating anything. My question for the panel would have been the following: would your reaction have been the same if the review had been written by a young black woman? The answer would very obviously be yes, and again, understandably and rationally so, but I wasn’t convinced that the people on the panel are any more able or desiring to view art, the world, themselves, and their peers without almost instantly drawing racial barriers. We have here the same old clash of the elite being insensitive and the minority being reactionary, and I didn’t sense that anyone in the discussion really had the brio to open up the real questions. I totally understand and support the argument that the show in question has its place, is important (and especially so to many historically under-represented people), and shouldn’t be dismissed- but I also understand the feeling that the art world in general (which does include many important minority artists, academics etc.) is pigeonholing artists into only being relevant if they are a) safe and b) shout the accepted cause of their skin color/school of thought from the rooftops. Mr. Johnson seems to be reacting to this phenomenon, as well as a general, very american over-emphasizing of people’s “race” and “ethnicity” , and I only wish he had delved into these problems in a more gutsy, challenging, and direct way. If I had written the review, I would have said that although the show is a relevant spotlight into a group of artists we wouldn’t otherwise see, and is as such a solid curatorial statement, it is still part of a self-conscious sort of dance around truly confronting ourselves as people. More than being sensitive to each others’ heritages, we need to be scientifically educated enough to enter into these discussions with a truly forward thinking perspective. We need to acknowledge the fact that as long as we use physical characteristics to delineate groups of people, the discussion will never be anything other than a patting of our own backs for dutifully representing our own supposed subset. I think that in writing his review, Mr. Johnson probably had some of the same frustrations that I do. I think it’s ridiculous that we even call each other “black” “white” or “brown.” The battle for civil rights certainly has not reached its conclusion, and it still needs to be fought, but we need to simultaneously look beyond the old arguments and delve into the core of how we really see ourselves.

    I shouldn’t have to state that I’m a Mexican in order for my critique to be taken without hostility. As a human artist, everyone has the right to question the basic validity of anything involving such a false, flawed, and situationally abused concept as “race.” There exists a vicious cycle of demanding understanding based on our color and then being surprised when we are less than tactfully grouped according to the same color category. Given the remaining sociopolitical and economic disparities that still exist, it’s certainly a very complicated matter, and a lot of equality has yet to be attained. I know one thing though- continuing to create identities based on color, whether it be for solidarity or in order to discriminate, is not the answer. By creating a panel comprised of african americans, women, east indians, etc, the petitioners were essentially saying “we who are different from you, older white man, disagree with your input.” If you want to really get into the meat of things, why not bring up the notion that in fact none of us/you are really different in any basic way. “Whites,” “blacks,” women, men, we are all born from the same ancestor, all live on the same life force and consciousness, want basically the same things as artists, and in the end Mr. Ken Johnson is just an extension of all of us. You have every right to single him out as an entitled white man, but at the very least acknowledge the fact that doing so is in itself a problematic and charged act. I don’t think that our frustrations with Mr. Johnson, although we may want them to be, can be one and the same with our frustrations with a white establishment as a whole. I would have been all for a less passive-agressive challenge of Mr. Johnson’s critique; the fact that the petitioners decided to act as a group and to deny their own individualities and nuances of thought seems to be yet another symptom of sloppy self determination according to ethnicity. In my opinion, it is the continuing responsibility of every artist to be a thinker and an intellectual first, and to place the evolution of thought and philosophy above identifying oneself as part of any group. Doing otherwise may make you a valuable and thoughtful member of your community, but it probably won’t make your work very exciting, thought provoking, or revolutionary (so why be an artist?). In my opinion the last ten years have seen far more interesting and thought provoking minority and women artists than white male artists. Judging by what I saw tonight, it seems to be, more than ever before, our job as the non-establishment to push for these people to be lauded based on their ideas, originality, and bold questioning of their own backgrounds as well as the status quo- rather than their identity based on affiliations- be they racial, academic, cultural, or otherwise. Clearly the discussion put a lot of questions in my head, and maybe we very much need intelligent critics to sometimes write weak-sauce reviews. Thea beauty of this civilization is that we can question what we think is unjust, distasteful, or simply boring, and I think both sides of the argument tonight, as well as everyone in the audience, including myself, need to keep that in mind and respect that ability much more often and with much more consideration.

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