I have this horrible feeling that this will become part of a multi-part series, but whatever it takes during our long national nightmare (to paraphrase Gerald Ford)…
If you follow art critics and journalists on social media – and you should – there is always discussion of the makeup of museum exhibitions. An historical survey with no women or people of color in it is just asking for the wrong kind of publicity, yet curators and museum staffs continue to mount just such shows on a depressingly regular basis. There is no question that art history has been a primarily white male-oriented discipline, with the occasional appearance of token women (Artemisia Gentileschi, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe) to pay lip service to diversity. Progress is being made, and a wider, more accurate timeline of history is slowly taking shape. For the savvy curator, this provides great possibilities, as artists who have deserved attention are not on the map, and ready for their spotlight.
Then Trump happened.
Panic is a natural result of the election. Will government funding of the arts, long seen as a solely liberal bastion, crumble under the new administration? Will artists and museums find themselves under harsher scrutiny from the powers that be? Will the progress that has been made in presenting an inclusive model of art history be undone due to fear or outside pressure?
The response lies not in thought but in action. The improvements made in recent decades must become industry-wide and be put into action. The time for all white male exhibitions is long over, and should be buried forthwith. Yes, there will be difficulties from the government, and from wealthy individuals who feel empowered by Trump’s victory and want to impose their opinions on institutions. But hanging paintings, sculptures, installations and so on that reflect what the art world was and is truly like – a wide-ranging spectrum that encompasses all races, sexualities, ethnicities, etc., is the best pushback. Such art on the wall breeds lectures and symposia along the same lines; the attention given to new scholarship raises the renown of museums who lead the way. Strange to think that a Trump presidency could lead to a golden age of women artists and artists of color, but progress is always forward, and staying in place is stagnation. Now of all times, the art world does not need stagnation. If I were a curator I’d be throwing exhibition proposals on the table with delight at the new connections that can be made, the artists who can finally receive the attention they deserve, and with the grim determination of the rebel, who is set on not letting the bastards get us down.