Kobena Mercer is Professor of History of Art and African American Studies at Yale University. He is author of
The Fragile Inheritors
Installation art by African American artists Renée Green and Fred Wilson, addressing the institutional authority by which museums stage representations of the past, is examined in this chapter, which accompanied a 1992 exhibition of the archival turn in contemporary art. Engaging closely with Michel Foucault’s concept of genealogy as an alternative to heroic and monumental modes of historiography, the chapter describes a paradigm shift away from earlier efforts to recover black history, which were confident that representation could make present what had been left out as absent, toward a new approach in which the aim is to interrupt museological codes and conventions so as to disembed artifacts from fixed narrative templates and thus ask how archival collections might be reconfigured for fresh interpretations of the past.