Amidst uncertainty, art museums respond to changing demographics

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At one point at the start of the last year and a half pandemic, with the art calendar crumbling – museums closed, galleries closed – I felt myself go into optimistic mode. I began to see the disruption not as a setback but as an opportunity, a forced readjustment of the balances. A new normal which is in fact new.

Of course, some big shows have been canceled by Covid-19, or postponed or closed. But the blockbusters will always be with us. I look forward to a carry over from last season, “Jasper Johns: Mind / Mirror”, a retrospective of the studiously mystifying artist’s career that will span two institutions, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Philadelphia Museum. of Art, this fall. (Sep 29-Feb 13, 2022).

But I also look forward with even more pleasure to two small solo surveys of lesser-known artists. One, “Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands” at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, is the first substantial glimpse of the East Coast by a Californian painter who trained in China during the Cultural Revolution, is came to the United States in 1984, and transformed a socialist realist style into a meditation on the psychic complexities of the immigrant experience. (Until May 30, 2022).

“Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego is another tribute to a long overdue career (October 16-April 24, 2022). Rooted in the Chicano art movement of the 1970s and 1980s, Lopez produced anti-colonial and pro-feminist work of extraordinary warmth and vitality. Her 1978 self-portrait as the Virgin of Guadalupe running a marathon is one of the great images of revolutionary joy.

(Liu and López passed away this summer, just weeks before their exhibitions opened.)

The season brings an abundance of museum group exhibitions of work by women. From California, which gave us the 2007 benchmark “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution ”, come two:“ New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century ”at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (until January 30, 2022) and“ Witch Hunt ”at the Hammer Museum and the Institute of contemporary art from Los Angeles. Originally slated to coincide with the 2020 presidential election, the Los Angeles show will feature work by transgender artists (including the dreaded Vaginal Davis) who “WACK!” left out (10 Oct-9 Jan 2022).

The past decade has given us reason to wonder what happened to the internationalist artistic energy of the ’80s and’ 90s when, apparently, everyone was watching everything on the planet and bounty was the mood. There are a few high-profile “non-Western” shows this season: “Afro-Atlantic Stories,” traveling from São Paulo, Brazil, to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, is a major event. But, overall, the numbers are slim, so it’s towards smaller shows of unknown material that we’ll look to for a big picture perspective.

At a time when post-Civil War black history is being rewritten, museums in the southern United States are doing extraordinary things. In 2018, telling this story took a big step forward with the inauguration of the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, created by the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala. A larger version of the museum – four times the size of the original and with a significantly expanded contemporary art presence – is set to debut on October 1.

I will also visit “A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration,” an exhibit commemorating the resettlement, from the early 20th century to the 1970s, of more than six million African Americans from rural South to cities across the United States. The show, consisting of commissioned works from a dozen black artists with southern ties, including Mark Bradford, Theaster Gates and Carrie Mae Weems, was hosted by two adventurous institutions, the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson (where it opens in April 2022), and the Baltimore Museum of Art (where it opens in October 2022).

And adventurous, that’s what arts institutions need to be in an era when the pandemic continues to transform and – the 2020 census tells us – the American population continues to change.

Among the black migrants heading north in the 1970s were contemporary artists who found no place to land in New York’s overwhelming white art world until a young merchant , Linda Goode Bryant, creates a welcoming gallery and helps change the country’s cultural landscape with her Just Above Midtown. gallery in Manhattan.

Bryant is still at work. I can’t wait to see what she does in “RAW Academy Session 9: Infrastructure”, a project she will lead at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, from February 2022. RAW Material Company, based in Dakar , Senegal is one of the main spaces for experimental art in Africa. For the project, RAW staff in Dakar will temporarily join Bryant and an international roster of curators and artists in Philadelphia to reflect on how museums can become more useful to artists and the public in a changing world.

It’s impossible to predict what kind of show – if there is even one – will result. And unpredictability is the starting point for another corporate initiative this season, “Year of Uncertainty” at the Queens Museum.

A response to the challenge of ‘normalcy’ created by the Covid crisis, and an affirmation of the proposition that ‘not normal’ may be a healthy direction to take, the museum will appeal to political activists in Queens, community organizations and to the local public – with its own artists in residence – to shape what the institution does and who it serves.

In the process, the definitions of art, audience and museum will all be hanging in the air. What shape do they take when they land, who knows? But I want to be there when they do.


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