This post is in response to Ken Johnson's 25 October review of ‘Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles,’ at MoMA PS1 It was sent via email as a letter to the editor of the New York Times on 27 October 2012.
I am an artist who lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts. While I often enjoy the writing of Ken Johnson, I was greatly disturbed by his review of the above referenced show. His text is really a lazy piece of writing. It assumes that black people make art with social and timely connection and so-called white people don't. What was DaDa if not a response to the political madness of WWI? Black and white people have lived together for 3 centuries in this country. If so-called white people cannot access the texts and sub-texts in the work of black artists it is because they choose not to, just as some of them choose to ignore the social realities of the country. These things are not beyond their comprehension or experience, despite the article's reification of the myth of inscrutable blackness.
While it is appropriate to discuss the history and context of every artist, and race is a part of that, we need to stop pretending that black people are the only ones with a "race." Does anyone ever talk about Robert Ryman and whiteness? Also, does Johnson not realize that the presence of the work of a black artist like Melvin Edwards, alters our understanding of what a work by a white artist like Richard Stankiewicz can mean? Johnson reinforces the spurious notion that black people make art about being black and so-called white people make art.
Also shame on Johnson for positing the notion that if you aren't black you aren't going to get the work, or that some of its poetics will be lost or inaccessible to you. There is one art world, and it's long past time that people stop treating black artists like they are from some other planet. We are part of the traditions of Western art and I'm tired of people telling us that we aren't.
Sincerely, Steve Locke