Thursday, June 30, 2011

RECAP: Seven Months, Seven Paragraphs

In mid February, I got a call from my brother who copped tickets to a Chicago Bulls game scheduled on my birthday later that month. “Let’s go, bro-bro!” he whooped. “Um, is it okay if I pass?” I asked then explained my desire to go to an art lecture instead. “That’s cool,” my brother chuckled. “Believe me, I can find somebody who’ll go!” So  – on my birthday – my brother and our father excitedly observed the Chicago Bulls beat the Miami Heat at the United Center.  I attentively listened to a lecture given by NYU professor Deborah Willis at the DuSable Museum of African American History. My dad and brother relaxed in cushy leather seats in a skybox lounge; I sat in the front row, alone, shifting my ass in discomfort on a hard plastic chair. They feasted on catered cuisine; I hungered for an opportunity to interview Willis for BlackArtistNews. She kindly agreed but conducting the interview proved challenging – there was a constant barrage of admirers who wanted books signed, questions answers and photo-opts which (understandably) left Willis distracted. My questioning was put on hold twice: first as Willis chatted briefly with photographer Dawoud Bey and again as she looked for her car service driver. (“I don’t want him to leave me,” she anxiously expressed.)  With patience (and luck) I completed the interview. Was it worth it? Honestly? Honestly? No. I should have spent that time with my brother. (My dad thinks I’m an asshole for not going to the game and I agree.) I had blinders on. I was determined to get “original content” for an art blog I thought would last approximately seven days, not seven months.

I admire individuals who fearlessly live a life centered in art. By appearance it’s a silly way to make a living – draw something on paper, paint something on canvas, assemble found objects and then put it on display to sell? – it’s a scary and fickle endeavor. Understandably, it takes a deeply committed individual with the strength and tenacity to move mountains in order to make art a profession.  BlackArtistNews celebrates those individuals who voluntarily respond to that call and by doing so set the bar for all artists.  
BlackArtistNews was created to provide information that I normally share with friends via email. I expected to get 25 “views” a month. To drum up traffic, I set up a twitter account to promote the site. BlackArtistNews tweets are being “followed” by the art press, cultural critics and museums. The information posted here has been tweeted, re-tweeted and—in a few cases – re-posted in other internet outlets. I’m amazed that people in Australia, Denmark, Japan, Russia and the UK have travelled here. At the time of this post BlackArtistNews has been viewed 9,398 times with 3,061 of those views in the past four weeks. 

A funny thing happened after the BlackArtistNews interview with Najjar-Abdul Mussawir was posted. It quickly became (and remains at this writing) this blog's most viewed post. And with that distinction a greater goal was achieved: since the inception of BlackArtistNews it’s been in the back of my mind that if one person interested in art read this blog and their bond with art making was cemented by what they learned here then I would have made an invaluable contribution. Read the comments to that interview and you’ll see that that mission has been accomplished.

September 2, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Romare Bearden's birth. There was no one like Uncle Romy – his life and body of work has inspired and influenced hundreds of black artists. I wish he were here – now – just to see what's happening this year: El Anatsui, Radcliffe Bailey, Richmond Barthe, Mark Bradford, Nick Cave, Thornton Dial and Glenn Ligon all currently have appropriate career level museum retrospectives on display. Rashid Johnson – who had a successful retrospective in Europe last year – is scheduled to have his first stateside retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2012. Kerry James Marshall and Wangechi Mutu each had major museum shows in Canada. Wardell Milan, Fehamu Pecou and Gary Simmons have had gallery shows in Europe this year.  David Hammons, Kehinde Wiley, Wangechi Mutu, Kara Walker, Ellen Gallagher, Lorna Simpson and filmmaker Isaac Julien have had gallery exhibits of their recent works. Chris Ofili is designing a poster for the 2012 Olympics. Zanele Muholi will be a featured artist at Art Basel in December. Ebony G. Patterson, Toyin Odutola, Theaster Gates and Nathaniel Donnett are braced for greater recognition in 2011 and beyond. Nina Chanel Abney, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Fehamu Pecou and Hank Willis Thomas curated exhibitions this year. And Uncle Romy would so appreciate (as I do) the DIY ethics of artists Son of Ellis in Memphis, TN and the GreatEclectic in Atlanta, GA who each produced, sponsored, curated, marketed and promoted their own solo exhibitions this year – the year that marks his 100th birthday. And let's not forget that Elizabeth Catlett – the godmother to Bearden's godfather figure for black artists – was the inspiration for the Bronx Museum exhibit Stargazers: Elizabeth Catlett in Conversation with 21 Contemporary Artists, a show that featured works by at least three generations of artists. But the icing on the cake is the Bearden centennial exhibition Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections opening at the Mint Museum on September 2, 2011, an exhibit that brings together 100 works covering every stage of Uncle Romy's career (they're even presenting an evening of his musical compositions.) The Mint show is a homecoming of sorts since Bearden was born in Charlotte, NC where the museum is located.

It’s hard for me to think about Uncle Romy’s contribution to the art world without thinking about the art appreciation lessons I learned from my blood relative uncle, Mark who died on May 6, 2011. He was 63 years old and I’m saddened by the fact that the world never got a chance to be exposed to his talents as an artist and writer. He was one of the most imaginative individuals I’ve ever encountered and he’s the reason why I hold so much love and respect for artists. Unfortunately, there came a time when my Uncle Mark took permanent residence inside his head and I can’t help but imagine what his life might have been like if he had stepped out of himself and released – unleashed – the wondrous ideas afloat in his mind. Even though Art comforts us, it binds us in ways that I don’t think I’ll ever understand. I'll miss the conversations on art and life with my uncle. He never talked “down” to me – even when I was a kid he made me feel we were equals. And that’s the spirit I look for most when I meet an artist: the ability to verbally communicate without being condescending. In hindsight, I suppose (if I'm lucky) I'll relive the conversations I had with my Uncle Mark when I interview artists for this blog. Somehow I expect those conversations to keep my memories of him alive and tangible.

BlackArtistNews extends appreciation to the following individuals for their encouragement, support and trust: Ebony G. Patterson, Monique Meloche, Whitney Tassie,  Ian Weaver, Frank DeBose, Lavon Pettis, Najjar Abdul-Musawwir, Quam Odunsi, Richard Hunt, Lerone Bennett Jr., Joseph Hampton, Daniel Parker, Patric McCoy, Deborah Willis, Kendell Carter, Willie Cole, Edwidge Danticat, Elizabeth Alexander, June Kelly, Ann deVere, Karen Comer Lowe, Fehamu Pecou,  Dawoud Bey, Joi Gilliam, Lalah Hathaway, Bobby Jones, Nathaniel Donnett, Troy Longmire, Back from Adam (this blog’s first follower!), Dannie Owens (for the RT’s!), Adelia Morgan, Warren Feagins, Kyle Westbrook, Mike Fenberg, Jackie Walker and “Lowrent.” And finally, to black visual artists worldwide – famous and unknown, male and female, young and old, alive and deceased, regardless of whether or not this blog exists for another seven months the work you do is the reason it exists TODAY. Thank you!

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