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115 Years: Art and Action

Demonstrators in Cincinnati in 1989 in support of the “Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment” exhibition.


From feminism to the culture wars and beyond, ARTnews has been on the front lines of political debate in the art world.

January 1971

“Why have there been no great women artists?”  The question tolls reproachfully in the background of most discussions of the so-called woman problem. But like so many other so-called questions involved in the feminist “controversy,” it falsifies the nature of the issue at the same time that it insidiously supplies its own answer: “There are no great women artists because women are incapable of greatness.” . . . What is important is that women face up to the reality of their history and of their present situation, without making excuses or puffing mediocrity.
—“Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” by Linda Nochlin


January 1973

Even just the phrase black art is the best thing that has happened for the condition for black artists in America. It really calls attention to the number of major galleries in New York and museums around the world that had not shown, were not showing, were not willing to show any work by any black artist. Yet everyone has not come aboard, you know that. And there’s the same kind of tokenism as before. There is still not a commitment showing. But there is nothing to suggest in the history of men that we would never arrive at a utopia. The individual black will be able to be successful but en masse, no.
—Sam Gilliam, as told to Donald Miller, in “Hanging Loose: An Interview with Sam Gilliam”


The October 1980 issue of ARTnews.

March 1989

An ARTnews survey of 38 artists, dealers, collectors, art historians, and museum curators reveals unanimity on one point: the art world is not widely informed about the scope and quality of visual art now being produced by black Americans. . . . [Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Lowery Stokes Sims] did point out in a recent interview that “people are still calling me when they want a list of black artists. This certainly tells you something is wrong with the kind of information people are getting . . . Whether we like to admit it or not, there’s no question that minority artists are being held back by their race.”
— “Black Artists Today: A Case of Exclusion,” by Patricia Failing


September 1989

Freedoms provided by the First Amendment are broad enough that when extreme demands are placed on them—defacing the flag, for example—extremist reasoning sometimes answers in return. Thus it has been interpreted that the First Amendment gives license to burn the American flag, though most Americans find that an offensive act. And thus again, [Robert] Mapplethorpe’s photographs, deemed offensive by some for their provocative sexuality, are being forced, at the threat of NEA cutbacks by Congress, to represent every kind of art and artist in America. Whatever the merit or failing of his pictures, this is a ridiculous point of view. It should be said for mainstream and marginal artists alike (and yesterday’s marginal has often turned out to be tomorrow’s mainstream) that art cuts across all constituencies at all times. In its very diversity, its vast range of attitudes, art is a symbol of the democratic spirit. And it offers each citizen freedom of choice—to look, to turn away, to rail against.
—“Shadowboxing with the Arts,” by Steven Henry Madoff


February 1992

“We cannot romanticize our past through art,” stresses Richard Hill, who directs the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, the nation’s only Indian art college. “If Indian art is ever going to change or evolve, it has to get out of the commercial mode.” When that happens, he believes, the stereotypes will change as well—one aim of the institute’s new museum spotlighting Indian art from the last three decades, which opens this year. “Through the arts people will get to see what Indians are saying, thinking. It’s important for people to understand.”
—“Native American Art: Pride and Prejudice,” by Robin Cembalest


Bob Haozous, Border Crossing, 1991.


May 15, 2014

[Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA and a] cluster of exhibitions on both coasts represents a bit of a departure from how many major U.S. museums generally treat the subject of art and design by Latin American and U.S. Latino artists. (I am referring specifically to work produced from the 20th century through the present.) An examination of museums’ online archives shows that while artists of Latin American origin are frequently included in group shows (such as biennials) and do receive solo exhibitions—most often in project spaces—profoundly researched, years-in-the-making surveys and retrospectives that might put their work in a larger social, political, or artistic context tend to be a rarity.
— “Are U.S. Art Museums Finally Taking Latin American Art Seriously?,” by Carolina A. Miranda


June 2015

Despite encouraging signs of women’s improved status and visibility in the art world, there are still major systemic problems. Do not misunderstand me: women artists are in a far better position today than they were 45 years ago, when Linda Nochlin wrote her landmark essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” published in the pages of this magazine. . . . But inequality persists. The common refrain that “women are treated equally in the art world now” needs to be challenged. The existence of a few superstars or token achievers—like Marina Abramović, Tracey Emin, and Cindy Sherman—does not mean that women artists have achieved equality. Far from it.
—“Taking the Measure of Sexism: Facts, Figures, and Fixes,” by Maura Reilly


July 11, 2016

As new political movements like Black Lives Matter have gained influence in recent years, social practice has risen in stature and popularity in the art world. . . . But there is a new wave of contemporary work influenced by racial injustices, one that has arisen in the last two years and is decidedly more sensational, predominantly focusing on pain and trauma inflicted upon the black body. Artists have made systemic racism look sexy; galleries have made it desirable for collectors. It has, in other words, gone mainstream. With this paradoxical commercial focus, political art that responds to issues surrounding race is in danger of becoming mere spectacle, a provocation marketed for consumption, rather than a catalyst for social change.
—“Black Bodies, White Cubes: The Problem with Contemporary Art’s Appropriation of Race,” by Taylor Renee Aldridge


A version of this story originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of ARTnews on page 70.

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