The State of Black Art
The Washington Post’s Style section featured a lengthy piece on the state of Black art and how new, contemporary black artists are trying to break through.
Allure, success, big prizes, prestigious shows — if cutting-edge black artists have so clearly got it made, why are they almost unknown outside the little world of contemporary art where they’ve managed to reach stardom? Why hasn’t the larger community — or at very least the larger black community — adopted them as cultural heroes, alongside Tanner and Bearden? They aren’t in that pack of cards, and it’s not clear they will be anytime soon.
King-Hammond says she was shocked to discover that friends from outside the art world had never heard of Yinka Shonibare, even though that Nigerian-British art star is the subject of a big touring retrospective that has touched down on the Mall, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. “You guys have got to get up to speed,” she remembers saying to them — Shonibare and his peers “have already entered the stratosphere.”
The most common explanation for this neglect is that serious contemporary art is too difficult and esoteric to have broad appeal in any larger community of Americans. Ligon says that artists like him are “a small blip” in the broader contemporary culture. “My mother said to me that the only artists she’d ever heard of are dead.”