Susan E. Cahan’s Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power is a meticulous case study into an embattled New York art establishment, which black artists critiqued as perpetuating racist, exclusionist collecting and exhibition practices during the 1960s and 1970s. Cahan’s research into four museums—the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Studio Museum in Harlem—reveals how art institutions responded incrementally to black artists’ demands for equity. Despite the different degrees of restructuring within the museums, Cahan argues that the museums nevertheless maintained authority via incremental concessions, forestalling any major change. The results of negotiations and concessions reinforced, rather than dismantled, the powerful authority of museum officials and standardized “black art” shows, a race-based exhibition format that Cahan asserts maintains hierarchical divisions in museums. Chapter 1 traces the history of the Studio Museum in Harlem and the competing ideologies that led from its transition as an interracial site of collaboration to a space of local and black leadership. Chapter 2 attends to the Metropolitan Museum’s failures with Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, an exhibition meant to better its relationship with the black community and strengthen its image for an ambitious and expensive expansion plan. In chapter 3, Cahan explores tensions between white authority and black agency, as black artists demanded that staff consult an expert in African American art for the 1971 “black art” show, Contemporary Black Artists in America, at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Chapter 4 covers the Museum of Modern Art’s pace at better representing work by black artists, which would be thwarted for years after 1984 due to internal disagreements among staff and trustees. In each compelling case study, Cahan highlights histories infusing contemporary art and politics.
Julia Elizabeth Neal; Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power. Nka 1 November 2017; 2017 (41): 198–202. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-4271860
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