in other words

Everything you ever wanted to know about the art market but didn't know who to ask

Transcript: Inequalities in the Art World, with Naima Keith and Ian Alteveer

Photo credit: Colin Miller

In Podcast Transcripts

Charlotte Burns: Hello, and welcome to in Other Words. On today’s podcast we’re going to be discussing diversity in the art world—specifically in museums and, to some extent, in the market. Joining us today are Naima Keith, who’s the deputy director of exhibitions and programs at the California African American Museum. Hi Naima.

Naima Keith: Hi, good morning.

Charlotte Burns: Ian Alteveer is joining us, too. He’s a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where he’s currently organized the exhibition “Marisa Merz: The Sky Is a Great Space”. And recently, the Kerry James Marshall exhibition, “Mastry”, that’s now on show at LA Moca. Hi Ian.

Ian Alteveer: Hey, how are you Charlotte?

Charlotte Burns: Also joining us is Allan Schwartzman, the art advisor. Hi Allan.

Allan Schwartzman: Hi there.

Charlotte Burns: So, let’s get going. Today we’re going to be discussing diversity. It’s a topic that we’ve been emailing about for a while and now seems especially relevant with the controversy that’s erupted over the Whitney Biennale. Naima, do you want to talk us through your take on the controversy?

Naima Keith: It’s interesting reading the details of the controversy online, having not seen the exhibition, nor have I seen the painting. I find myself keeping up with everything via article and Twitter post and Facebook post. But it’s my understanding that a painting by Dana Schutz who is Caucasian was included in the Whitney Biennial. It is a painting of Emmett Till while he’s lying in his casket, which is an image that was made famous by his mother after he was killed. The photograph was widely circulated after Emmett’s passing because his mom wanted people to know that there were atrocities happening all throughout the United States, not just carried out against adults but to kids as well for just even looking at Caucasian Americans.

Initially, all the reviews that I read about the Whitney Biennial were all glowing. I know both curators, and I was very excited to see that the reception to the exhibition was positive. Everyone pretty much had great things to say, and it felt like, overnight, it went from “This is a great Whitney Biennial” to a “Oh my goodness, there’s this painting, about Emmett Till which led to a letter, signed by artists about how the painting should be taken down.

And there was also a pretty peaceful protest of an African-American artist standing in front of the painting. I found that, in reading about things from afar, that Coco Fusco’s article on Hyperallergic is the one that I found the most interesting because she’s questioning the validity of censoring a painting, or kind of demanding that something be taken down, should the conversation just be about the painting itself and questioning whether destroying the painting is a legitimate response to this kind of uproar. Right?

We’re getting into a really slippery slope when we say who can take on what topic and what’s off-limits, what can white artists talk about, what can a black artist, because on the flip side you have someone like Henry Taylor depicting Philando Castile, who was recently shot and killed by police, in a very large painting. But there’s very little uproar about him doing so, primarily, I’m assuming, because Henry is black.

Charlotte Burns: It’s interesting that there are two atrocities separated by decades in the US.

Naima Keith: Right.

Ian Alteveer: 60 years.

Charlotte Burns: Yeah. 60 years. In the same exhibition. And one of them is a subject of huge controversy. As you were saying, Naima, I think there was a solo protest in the beginning with an artist standing in front of the work.

Ian Alteveer: He’s wearing a very beautiful t-shirt actually that’s handwritten.

Naima Keith: Yes, it says “Black Death Spectacle.”

Ian Alteveer: Exactly.

Charlotte Burns: Black Death Spectacle. And—

Ian Alteveer: And that seems to be in a way, what hinges on this—in part—which is about spectacularizing death, right? And this is often something that comes up with picture making, and particularly in paint, I think, somehow. In a way this relates to the tension between Dana’s painting and Henry’s painting, right? Because as you say, they’re both about episodes of violence against the black body.

Naima Keith: Right.

Ian Alteveer: What I think was striking were the calls to destroy the picture. Is it right to censor artists, and do we want to go there? I think the argument, though—who’s allowed to depict violence against bodies—is an important one. And I’m very sympathetic with some of the uproar about it. I know those two curators, too. I think they did a spectacular job on this show. But are there ways to foreground this so that these conversations can happen in a less spectacular way?

Naima Keith: Mhmm.

Ian Alteveer: Or maybe it is important to have spectacular conversations about spectacular violence.

Charlotte Burns: The National Museum of African American history that opened last year in D.C. has the coffin Emmett Till was lying in in the open casket, and it’s a much more somber affair. You approach it. You’re aware of what’s coming up. It’s this moment of horror and reconciliation for some people, according to the testimonials, and that’s presented in this, much more thoughtful manner. You know what you’re about to look at, but it is also historical artifact, which is different than the act of depicting violence. Dana Schutz often depicts violence; she often depicts bodies that have been abused. The question here is more who has the right, I think, to—

Naima Keith: Right.

Charlotte Burns: Who has the right to comment on—

Ian Alteveer: On the pain of others.

Charlotte Burns: On the pain of others.

Allan Schwartzman: I have a question related to that. Are most of the people who are calling for the removal of the work themselves artists?

Charlotte Burns: It was spearheaded by an artist in Berlin called Hannah Black. And the letter has been signed by other artists. There were critics as well that were talking about this on social media before the letter came out.

There were sort of these murmurings that a controversy might be in the offing. But I think it’s everybody now. It’s critics; it’s curators; it’s artists. Everybody seems to be having an opinion.

Ian Alteveer: On many sides.

Charlotte Burns: On many sides, and it’s all unfolding at a very fast pace, because it’s, everybody’s arguing on social media at the same time.

Ian Alteveer: Can I talk about something that’s very heartening about that Biennial though? Naima, you mentioned Henry Taylor, who’s shown in this amazingly beautiful and powerful room, together with the photographer Deana Lawson. And together those two artists—one a photographer, one a painter—their representation in the Biennial is incredible. On a large scale, with many works, in a very grand room. In a way that is symbolic, too, of the ways in which the two curators thought very deeply about curating a Biennial that is fully diverse, that has almost 50 percent women, that is full of all sorts of people of color, gender, and sexuality, and it’s an incredible kaleidoscopic—if I can use that word—and generous hang.

So, to me, one of the unfortunate things about this controversy is that it overshadows so many of the beautiful—

Naima Keith: Yeah.

Ian Alteveer: —Aspects of the show. At the same time, though, I think it brings to the fore, questions that are very, very relevant, and very important to us, especially when we’re dealing with, a current Administration that seems largely to completely disregard any of these issues. In fact, there’s been some, even white supremacists—one might say—viewpoints coming from certain people in that Administration.

So the tension runs high, as it should in a situation like this. When we still, as a country have a legacy that is a very much still to deal with, that we still have to face.

Naima Keith: While I agree there needs to be a bit of sensitivity, obviously, when dealing with sensitive subject matter, especially in today’s political climate, I’m worried that arguments like these will alienate or create fear, right? For people who are not of color—

Ian Alteveer: Mhmm.

Naima Keith: —to discuss or take on certain issues. We all want the killing of African American men or the disappearance of African American women, or just violence against people of color to be everyone’s issue. Right?

Ian Alteveer: Yep.

Naima Keith: I completely see both sides, but I’m worried that this controversy will make people who are not of color fearful of taking on any issue, right, that’s deemed to be racially sensitive because of this fear of some kind of backlash.

Ian Alteveer: Yeah.

Allan Schwartzman: Yeah, yeah, I have a few thoughts going through my head. I find that when the art world starts to get into self-censorship because of what it thinks may be right or wrong or acceptable, or destructively controversial, that’s problematic.

When artists start calling for kinds of censorship or questioning who has the right to say what, or how one kind of person expressing something changes the content and the intent of it. It’s very complex and troubling. There are three works of art that kind of stick in my mind

The first was David Hammons, when he was commissioned to make a billboard in Washington D.C., and he depicted Jesse Jackson in whiteface.

Ian Alteveer: Oh yes (laughs).

Allan Schwartzman: And there was a, a saying written underneath that I don’t remember precisely—

Naima Keith: It’s “How [ya] like me now?”

Allan Schwartzman: Thank you.

Ian Alteveer: How [ya] like me now, yeah.

Allan Schwartzman: Yeah, which was more than what it looked like. It was a quote from rap, so it was really talking about, amongst other things, relationship between different generations of color and how they perceived themselves and communicate.

That was a work that was placed in the public realm. It was attacked; it was vandalized, and this was not by artists, it was by people outside the art world who may have been unaware that David Hammons is a black artist. They may have been unaware of his own history, and what this means in relation to his own context and really talks about how art is at a remove from most people’s’ lives. And what we think we’re saying—what people in the art world are saying may be different from what people are receiving.

At a somewhat similar time, also interestingly in the same city of Washington D.C., there was an exhibition of Bob Gober and Sherrie Levine. Included in the exhibition was Bob Gober’s wallpaper paper of The Hanging Man—

Ian Alteveer: Hanging Man, sleeping—

Allan Schwartzman: Hanging man. Exactly. How that work was interpreted was very different from how Bob intended it or imagined that it would be perceived. And ultimately, it was most controversial amongst the black guards of the museum who were treated differently from other staff, as is the case in many museums, where that’s like a different union, that’s a different population, they have a different relationship or lack of integration into the artistic and administrative core of the institutions.

And, and they sat down with Bob and said how offensive it was to them. Bob all of a sudden realized that what he thought was communicating read very differently.

Naima Keith: Well it’s interesting, that same wallpaper work was recently installed at the Underground Museum.

Ian Alteveer: I saw it there. It’s beautiful there.

Naima Keith: Yeah, yeah—and as far as I know, there hasn’t really been any controversy.

Ian Alteveer: Right, but in that context.

Naima Keith: Maybe because the work has been circulated quite a few times, but it’s just interesting that in a space that was started by Noah Davis, and his wife Karon, who are both African American artists.

Ian Alteveer: I hung that work when I was at Underground Museum, I was looking for the label that Bob usually makes one hang when one now installs that wallpaper. Because we borrowed it in 2012 for our show, “Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years”, and Bob was very adamant that we include some of his text that he wrote after that incident, Allan, that you just described in Washington with the guards.

It’s a very beautiful text, which describes the kind of impetus behind the work and the sensitivity of using an image like that—of a man being lynched—and of course it’s in the whole context of Bob’s own despair with not only that painful history, but also a painful history that was still unfolding at the time of AIDS, of crisis where he was losing friends.

But it was great in a way to see it at Underground Museum in such a rich context. And it didn’t need that text maybe anymore, so that was fascinating—

Allan Schwartzman: Interesting.

Ian Alteveer: And I love that example of yours, Allan.

Charlotte Burns: It’s interesting too, howart can be controversial at one point and then later pass without fanfare. I’m thinking specifically of Chris Ofili,whoseMadonna work was so controversial to the Giuliani Administration in New York and then was back on show at the New Museum a couple of years ago and was completely fine.

Ian Alteveer: New Museum doesn’t get city funding.

Charlotte Burns: Right.

Ian Alteveer: I mean that was part of the lynchpin for Giuliani back then, which was that he was threatening the Brooklyn Museum, with—

Charlotte Burns: With funding.

Ian Alteveer: —with withholding their city funding. And I mean that brings in a whole other aspect to this, which is government funding for the arts, which is something we’re all facing the demise of.

Charlotte Burns: Right.

Ian Alteveer: Naima does your institution receive any city or state or federal funding?

Naima Keith: Yes actually. We are a state institution, and so we actually get 99% of our funding from the State of California.

Ian Alteveer: Amazing. Well at least it’s the State of California and not the United States at this point

Naima Keith: Exactly. We do get all of our funding from the State—

Ian Alteveer: Amazing.

Naima Keith: But we don’t necessarily have a lot of restrictions in regards to what we could show. So we are cognizant of the fact that we are a state museum, so we don’t necessarily show maybe too inflammatory things in terms of against a president or anything like that.

Ian Alteveer: Right.

Naima Keith: But, but we don’t necessarily shy away from, nor do we have any kind of rules around censorship around certain artists. So just because they’re tackling a tough topic around race or gender or anything like that, we don’t censor them.

Ian Alteveer: So many institutions in this country depend in part on city—

Naima Keith: Yeah.

Ian Alteveer: —or state or federal funding, and it’s the federally funded ones we really worry about these days.

Allan Schwartzman: I’m not sure that the perception of the Chris Ofili painting changed. In this country, art is such an easy target to be politicized by politicians. Art is not natural to the history of this country as it is in other parts of the world. And so it already seems like something removed from most people’s lives, and it’s been a very easy target, certainly in the years I’ve been involved in the art world, for politicians to point to dissidence as something depraved. But that was Giuliani, I don’t think that—

Ian Alteveer: Yeah—

Allan Schwartzman: —there was anyone else in New York City.

Ian Alteveer: No, sort of a loner in that regard. But when we were talking about Bob’s wallpaper. It made me think of Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Felix always said that he wanted to be a spy. The work that he created—his candy piles and spills and the piles of paper, that the audience could take a sheet of—that was all about kind of going under the radar of people like Jesse Helms, or the right wing, who was on the lookout for images of gay people, images of intimacy between them, as examples of the kind of moral corruption in the arts, right?

To put two clocks on the wall, touching, keeping the same time, was a way of putting that intimacy on view without kind of arousing the censors, right? And that’s brilliant work, but not everyone can do that.

Allan Schwartzman: Yep.

Charlotte Burns: Mmm.

Ian Alteveer: You know, right? So what does it mean to make art that kind of flies under the radar, in other words? But what does it also mean then to make art that doesn’t, that puts it all out there? There are risks involved, obviously.

Charlotte Burns: Right. And do you feel responsibilities—this is really for you, Ian and Naima, as curators, people involved in institutions that represent to some extent public money, to educate the public—do you feel responsibilities to be more diverse? Do you feel that attitudes are shifting within institutions about the proportion of displays? Who gets to be shown? Whose history gets to be told?

Ian Alteveer: I keep a bulletin board in my office that tracks all of my ongoing acquisitions that I’m thinking of or that are in the process for the Modern and Contemporary Art department at the Met. And it has zones, it has a zone of things where I’m just thinking about it, it has a zone where it’s been kind of discussed amongst colleagues, and kind of tacitly approved.

And then it’s got its final zone where it’s going through. And, from time to time, I’ll look over at it, and I will scream (laughing) because it’s all white men on that board, and I really take that hardly. I try and remind myself all the time, that it cannot just be white men on that board, and there’s many reasons why it often, it veers in that direction, some of it has to do—

Charlotte Burns: With people giving the work.

Ian Alteveer: With the people who are giving the work and the work that they’ve collected over the years. Some of it has to do with what the galleries are funneling in my direction, and making available to me. Some of it is even just me. I’m always cognizant of what’s on that board, how I can make that board more diverse, both along gender lines and along ethnicities.

It’s super, super important because what, what I bring into the Museum will be there for a long time, unless the next person just decides to go and sell it. That usually doesn’t happen. It is super important to us—to us as a department, and to us I think now museum-wide—that what’s represented on our walls represents everybody in this great global city and around the world. We are supposed to be the repository at the Met of not only 5,000 years of art history, but of all places.

If I’m not reflecting that, then I’m not doing my job. So that bulletin board is handy not only to keep track of what I need to keep track of, but also to remind myself to make sure that there are lots of women on there and lots of people of color.

Charlotte Burns: Naima, what do you think?

Naima Keith: I’m looking at my white board right now, and I’m thinking I need to get on it. As a curator that’s, that’s dedicated herself to exhibiting and supporting artists of color, I must admit that I’m far less strategic because I feel like majority of institutions already are thinking about supporting Caucasian artists, so—

Ian Alteveer: Right.

Naima Keith: I don’t necessarily know if I have to be as strategic maybe as Ian because I feel like I’m always promoting a group that is maybe less on the radar of larger museums. That’s definitely changing now. I mean there’s quite a few exhibitions that are up right now that are celebrating artists of color, but when it comes to acquisitions—

Ian Alteveer: Right.

Naima Keith: —I definitely, you know, think that there’s a lot of work that could be done, but I’m also always kind of aware there needs to be a balance between women and men. I think we can all kind of acknowledge that men tend to get more exhibitions and shine and all that great stuff in many major museums, and so for me it’s just trying to make sure there’s a bit more of a balance.

Charlotte Burns: We were talking this morning, Allan, about the market, which is a whole other story, but related—this idea that there’s a huge chasm between the price for the world’s most expensive living male artist, and the world’s most expensive living female artist.

Allan Schwartzman: Yeah this was a real surprise to me. A week ago I was in Tokyo, and I saw a wonderful exhibition of Yayoi Kusama. One of the people I was viewing the exhibition with said, “She must be the most expensive living woman artist.” And having bought a few paintings for clients over the last few years, don’t quote me on this, but I think the prices were in the $650,000-$750,000 price range. And so I said, “That can’t be possible. There have to be other women artists whose prices are higher.” By that, we meant, living artists’ primary market new works.

After three days of revisiting the subject, we came up with only two other living artists whose prices are possibly are higher. Marlene Dumas, and her prices can be lower, too, depending on the scale of the works, and Julie Mehretu, whose prices have been quite substantial since nearly the beginning of her career.

That I found shocking, given how much presence that there is of women’s artists at this point within the marketplace, and certainly within our understanding of art of the last several decades. I understand coming from the first generation of feminists artists where the emphasis was not on the traditions of such mediums as painting, which are the objects that tend to be imbued the most with financial value, but on collectivism, on working in alternative ways. But in more recent years, that’s changed, and yet there’s this huge imbalance from a collecting perspective that I thought we’d gotten beyond but I guess we haven’t.

Ian Alteveer: Is it surprising then that more of your clients don’t want to collect women artists? Or that they aren’t collecting women artists, given—if one looks at it the other way around—their affordability?

Charlotte Burns: Their better value.

Allan Schwartzman: Well, I’m not the best person to ask that question of because lots of my clients collect women artists.

Ian Alteveer: They do, I know, it’s great. (laughs)

Allan Schwartzman: (laughs) And we in many instances focused on areas of collecting that had been undervalued. Certainly we focused a lot on post-War Italian Art, and there was much less of a place for women Italy in the central, themes of art in the 1960s than there was in the United States, and yet, Marisa Merz, whose retrospective who you currently have on view and have organized, and, without making a plug, I must say, really is one of the finest retrospectives I’ve seen.

We have focused on collecting in post-war Brazilian art, and one of the interesting points about Brazil versus the United States is that probably the four most significant artists to have emerged in the mid-century, three of them were women and one was a gay man. Which was very different from the composition of the makers of abstract expressionism in the United States.

We’ve also focused to some extent on post-war Japanese art, and I would say of the five or six most significant artists of Gutai, two of them are women, Tanaka and Yamazaki. So it’s not the same story in other parts of the world. I have had no resistance whatsoever from many of the collectors I work with on buying the work of women artists or with questioning values in relation to gender, so we’ve been fortunate, but I studied under Linda Nochlin.

Ian Alteveer: Me too.

Allan Schwartzman: And my first boss was Marsha Tucker, so I rose upin a somewhat different waythan some of the people who do see different levels of value.

Charlotte Burns: Well that brings us onto this point of governance and of staff. There were two surveys the Art Newspaper reported on, that were conducted last year, and they’re quite interesting. The Association of Art Museum Directors, together with the Mellon Foundation, devoted its last annual meeting to discussing diversity, after finding that only 4% of curators, educators, conservators and top administrators are African American, 6% are Asian, and 3% are hispanic.

A separate study was conducted by the New York City Department of Culture, which announced after it’s study that it was going to commit $1 million to supporting diversity in organizations, including the Met and the Bronx Historical Society, after it surveyed 1,000 cultural organizations and found that people of color make up only 9% of museum boards, and 16% of administrators, curators, conservators, and educators. To put that into context, 38% of the country’s population are people of color. So the statistics are way off in the art world, and it’s interesting to think about who is making decisions to preserve cultures. It’s interesting to think about the perspectives that shape us too.

Ian Alteveer: There’s been a call that you’re alluding to here, but also on a wider scale to push institutions to diversify their boards, particularly ones here in New York City that get city funding. The Met is one of those. There are I think 36 cultural institutions in New York that are on city land, and so as such, they are part of a group of institutions that theoretically are supported in part by the city government.

The city government has been pushing, and I think from within as well the Met has been kind of pushing to add more people of color and more women to the board. It’s interesting to see what’s happened in the aftermath of the announcement of my director, Tom Campbell’s, upcoming resignation. There’s been many calls to replace him with a woman, which I think is a wonderful idea.

There are lots of women who lead institutions on smaller scales across the country. When you get to that large format museum, why aren’t women considered for those jobs, and if they are, why aren’t they getting them? And the same could be said, indeed, for people of color.

Naima, you are an alumna of a really amazing training ground at the Studio Museum.

Naima Keith: One of the great things about working with Thelma [Golden] is that she’s really committed herself to hiring young curators, and really making Studio Museum a kind of a training ground, I don’t want to use the word boot camp. Studio Museum is almost kind of like dog years, where you’re there years, but it’s really like eight museum years, because—

Ian Alteveer: You guys do so much.

Naima Keith: Right because of the amount of just responsibility, opportunity, board engagement that you get at Studio Museum is just unheard of at other institution. It really is a springboard for us to be competitive for jobs at major institutions at much higher ranks. Studio Museum is really one of the few institutions that really takes that role of mentorship very seriously. The real opportunities for diversity come from giving, especially younger, junior curators, opportunities, right?

Ian Alteveer: Yeah.

Naima Keith: To actually do shows.

Ian Alteveer: I see artists being more diverse in a way, even those coming out of big MFA programs. I taught for a few years while I was working at the Met at Yale, and there were incredible artists of color going to Yale. Some of them have emerged as really powerful voices and really amazing artists in our contemporary world. I’m thinking of Njideka Akunyili Crosby, for example, who was one of my students at Yale. There’s really amazing artists of color in some of these programs.

Naima Keith: There have been a few schools, Yale being one of them, that have been known for attracting a number of students of color. A lot of them seem to funnel through the artist in residency program at Studio Museum as well. I don’t want to use the word pipeline—

Ian Alteveer: A family.

Allan Schwartzman: Well regarding diversity in the curatorial world, there are a substantial number of curators who have come out of Latin nations who have attended both American and international curatorial training programs.

Having participated in a small way in one of ICI’s programs for training curators, almost all of the people participating were from Latin America, India, Turkey—I think there is a hunger amongst people in nations that broaden the definition of diversity. Certainly we see a lot more institutions being formed in the Arab world which will inevitably result in an increase in curators from those parts. We in this country remain, to a certain extent, trapped by having never really come to grips with our own internal racism, or with the trauma of slavery.

The fact that we’re in 2017, having some artists calling for the removal of the work of another artist is probably as much a reaction to the current government and and its way of sorting through and dividing people. It creates an ebbing out of a sense of fear and territory and the right to be present.

There’s something that’s been kind of in the back of my mind during this whole conversation. I’m involved in a Museum in Brazil called Inhotim, which is a museum that I in part created with a patron, focused on artists doing large-scale and visionary dream projects located permanently within a landscape. One of the first artists I brought forward to work with there was Lothar Baumgarten, who I believe around 1970 travelled from Venezuela deep into the Amazon to live with the Yãnomãmi, who were one of the most remote tribes and had been virtually unknown to the Western World.

Lothar chose to live with the people in order to be accepted by the people and in a certain way to find himself as an artist. This was a German man, from the post-war generation, whose father, himself, was an anthropologist. So, in his mind, he was somebody who was trying to do the opposite of being a white man speaking on behalf of another people, rather than having them speak for themselves.

But when I proposed his work in, in Brazil, people were offended that I wanted to work with him precisely because he was a white European, who were the settlers who created the whole colonial structure. At the same time in Brazil, you had an artist named Claudio Andujar, a Brazilian artist, not Brazilian-born, European, who was Jewish and what was sent by her family during the war to the United States to be safe and eventually found herself living in Brazil.

She became a photographer and had an assignment to photograph the Yãnomãmi entering from the Brazilian side, since they occupy lands in both countries. And so these two artists came in contact with an indigenous peoples that had previously been virtually unknown at about the same time. Both spent decades going back into the Amazon to work with the same people—in the case of Lothar, to be making installation works mostly and sound pieces, and in the case of Claudia, making photographs, which, over the course of 40 years of her life, showed the development of an artist and an evolving relationship with a people, first an outsider, and then as someone who became accepted.

It was fascinating to see how two artists, with a very similar set of goals, working in different mediums artistically, were viewed in completely different ways by the people within Brazil.

Charlotte Burns: What were those different ways?

Allan Schwartzman: Lothar was seen as an opportunist, as somebody who was speaking on behalf of other people—

Ian Alteveer: And Claudia’s photographs were accepted as kind of document.

Allan Schwartzman: Claudia’s were seen as an unfolding of having a view toward a people that we didn’t have a view toward before, and whose lives were quickly changing, maybe—

Ian Alteveer: Whereas Claudia’s photographs might be seen as somewhat even more anthropological or ethnographic—

Allan Schwartzman: Maybe it’s—

Ian Alteveer: —than Lothar’s were.

Allan Schwartzman: Yeah. Maybe it’s a difference between photography as a medium and installation as a medium, or the more photojournalistic nature of her work, and the more aesthetic nature of his work. But one other big difference was that Claudia became so involved that she became a political activist and was the principal representative for the Yãnomãmi within the central government and fought on their behalf to get certain kinds of territorial and cultural rights that are greater than those of any other indigenous people in Brazil—because of her. In a way that this displaced person, who, who had moved from culture to culture and was kind of finding herself within another culture, became the advocate for yet another culture that she was outside of. But I think ultimately the fact that she was a woman living in Brazil, and he was a man living in Germany was really the dividing line.

Ian Alteveer: That might be the initial one, but it sounds like her advocacy was also an important aspect of this. Maybe advocacy is one of the words where we need to keep in our heads when we talk about diversity in an institutional situation. Part of a curator’s job would be to advocate for artists to enter the collection, to show their work, but also maybe more generally on a kind of political level to advocate for … equal rights for people. To advocate for the realization that not everyone has been treated the same way. To open people’s’ eyes to a world where many people are disadvantaged, and maybe there’s ways to rectify that. And so I think, for me, diversity is about, yes, diverse viewpoints, but things that may end up waking—

Charlotte Burns: With change.

Ian Alteveer: Yeah. With change.

Charlotte Burns: I was just thinking of two things that occurred to me while you were talking. One was about Kara Walker, and I was thinking of the 1997 letter-writing controversy where a group of black artists protested her work because they felt it perpetuated negative stereotypes, and they asked for it to be banned and removed. And I was thinking about that, because she had commented on this latest controversy in a quite vague way, but essentially saying art needs to be seen, and I thought that was a really interesting point, and it brings me back again to this controversy, and a viewpoint of Felix Salmon, who’s a writer for Fusion, was that the complaint of the artist Hannah Black, against Dana Schutz, is to do with power and money.

Everybody else is talking about it in terms of what it is, like identity politics, space, who has access, who has rights. Who has a voice, essentially. And he makes the link between the letter. Black says that’s it not acceptable for a white person to transmute black suffering into profit and fun, and describes the painting as a valuable painting, and condemns a capitalist appropriation of the lives and bodies of black people.

It’s really interesting cause the idea of capitalism as being founded of slave labor, and it’s to do with commerce, and the complaint here isn’t necessarily the visual one. It’s not necessarily that the brushstrokes are egregious. It’s the fact that Dana Schutz is a successful artist whose paintings sell. Hannah Black—Salmon is arguing—wants to prevent the work from entering the market, and entering a museum, and has been successful, because Dana Schutz has said that she won’t sell the work.

Ian Alteveer: But she already had said that she wouldn’t sell the work.

Charlotte Burns: Right. But it’s interesting to draw attention to the idea who makes money from whose history?

Ian Alteveer: My understanding is that Dana had always said that she wasn’t going to sell that picture? That was my sense of the story. I understand that Felix is pointing out something that is sort of distracting about this whole thing—the money involved in a picture like that. And paint is often valued more than a photo, more than a drawing, and so to make a work in paint, maybe always already, especially when is successful, like Dana is, to some extent. That does add an extra layer of responsibility, let’s say. And this goes without saying that artists who are curated into the Whitney Biennial tend to experience some amount of market success. But I find this argument distracting from what is the really compelling point which is about who does, who is, who should be allowed, whether, what does it mean to draw attention to a really painful moment in history? And, as painful as it is, I really think it’s a good thing that we’re all talking about it. Today.

Roberta Smith writing in the New York Times ends with it’s too late in a way to destroy that picture because it’s already part of this dialogue, and it can’t be in a way forgotten.

Without sort of getting mired in the details about should this painting be sold, all of those sort of thins, how much does the painting cost—I find all of that kind of distracting from the real issue, which is about this painful legacy of that moment in 1955. Of that open coffin and the ways in which—Allan, you said, too—we have not dealt with that history.

Charlotte Burns: Well thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you, Naima, for waking up so early in California.

Naima Keith: (laughing)

Charlotte Burns: And phoning in. Thank you Allan for jumping off a plane and arriving here, and thank you, Ian, who is always in between planes. So thank you very much.

Ian Alteveer: It’s been great.

Naima Keith: Thank you.

Allan Schwartzman: Thank you Charlotte.

You may also like...

Slideshow: Negative Space

By Matthew Thompson

Quarantined Cartoons

By Kaitlin Chan

Art Books and the Covid-19 Crisis

How the industry is adapting

By Christian House