Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power

Susan E. Cahan. Duke Univ, $34.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8223-5897-8
This essential publication, focusing exclusively on New York City’s art museums in the wake of the civil rights movement, shines a revealing light on the artists, museum staff, and activists who were involved in the effort to force large art institutions to “face artists’ demands for justice and equality.” Cahan, dean of the arts at Yale College, deftly weaves together interviews, excerpts from newspapers, and archival material. She dedicates a hefty chapter to each of the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Cahan takes an unblinking look at the “elusive relationship between structural inequities and individual choices,” examining instances of African-Americans literally being turned away from museum doors, the politics surrounding the formation of the Studio Museum and its tense first show, and Met curator Allon Schoener’s problematic motivations behind the famously disastrous 1969 Harlem on My Mind exhibition. The text closely follows the efforts of curators, directors, and trustees to preserve the status quo and prevent the integration of their collections and staff, alongside the comparatively generous, though short-lived, tenure of MoMA director John Hightower. This thorough and unrelenting examination gives invaluable history as well as context for the present struggle to create and maintain diversity in art museums. Illus. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/21/2015
Release date: 02/19/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 360 pages - 978-0-8223-7145-8
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