African American Artists and Their Roles in Art History

The Art Newspaper:  ‘We’re a part of American art too’: Black artists speak on their roles in art history

Partway through a press lunch last week in honor of the publication of Four Generations: the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art, the abstract painter Sam Gilliam reflected on his distaste for the demand that black artists make work that transparently speaks to their race. “You don’t want to be part of a corner,” he said. “You want to be universal.”

Gilliam was joined by fellow artists Jack Whitten, Charles Gaines, Melvin Edwards and William T. Williams for an event at Le Bernardin restaurant that sometimes felt like a gathering of old friends at which reporters were merely present. Gaines, at one point, said it felt “almost, for me, like a high school reunion”. Although the discussion included input from others, like Courtney Martin, the art historian who edited the book, and Christopher Bedford, the Baltimore Museum of Art director who is one of its contributors, it was more an opportunity to hear these artists speak to their sense of the art historical narrative and their various places in it.

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