Over the years I've handed out my share of criticism of the Milwaukee Art Museum's failure to include African-American artists in its exhibitions--see here and here, just to mention two--and those criticisms were deserved and offered up in the hopes that it would change its ways.
To be fair, MAM has made quick nods of affirmation to the African-American artistic community--much like, "Yes, we know you're there, so we'll give a few of you a little sumpin sumpin,"--and has hosted events with entertainment aspects designed to attract a more diverse crowd, which is the strength of the city it calls home. But MAM has remained well behind the curve when it comes to a consistent representation of art created by African-Americans, getting lost in the dust of more inclusive institutions, such as the Museum of Wisconsin Art (MWA).
Now, as we all know or should know, it takes a helluva lotta time, planning and resources to organization any museum exhibit, with some of the more complex shows requiring years to put together. Being aware of that means that a bit o' patience is required--at times much more than a bit--and a real dedication to the belief that patience will be rewarded.
And so it is that with MAM's 30 Americans exhibition, along with its companion exhibitions Wisconsin 30 and Question Bridge: Black Males, we have received the reward for which we have waited nigh on these many moons, and we couldn't be more pleased!
A remarkable survey of contemporary art created by African-Americans since 1970, 30 Americans presents extremely strong and challenging work in a wide range of media. And what does the strongest and most challenging art do? It poses difficult questions, telling us hard truths through various approaches, and doesn't let us off the hook, that's what.
To its credit, MAM has also spent a ginormous amount of resources on marketing this exhibition and in ways it hasn't always done in the past, which is a clear sign of its effort to reach those who rarely if ever enter its hallowed, white halls. To wit, this well-crafted ad I caught yesterday on teevee:
As my equal half remarked, "Now that's how ya spend your money." Right on!
As noted earlier, there are two companion exhibitions to 30 Americans, one of which is Wisconsin 30. These works by local African-American artists--who have had definite issues in getting their work shown at MAM--simply must be seen in person to be truly appreciated. Artists represented include some of my favs, namely Della Wells, Jamal Currie, Sonji Yarbrough Hunt, Richard O. Lewis, Evelyn Patricia Terry, and George Williams, Jr.
So then, we tip our hat to MAM for this undeniably great exhibition! But as we place our kudo giving chapeau back on our noggin and we acknowledge its not-so great record of inclusion, we must also ask if 30 Americans marks a real and meaningful change in how the museum organizations exhibitions or is it just another quick nod? While certainly this full-on exhibition is grander than any nod MAM has given, is it the starting point of a sustainable and consistent dedication to showing the works of minority artists, thereby increasing its relevance to members of minority communities, or is it just a vehicle to cram it all in at once so the museum may then sigh with relief and revert to the usual?
The answer is as sure to come as the future is to come. And until it publicly announces more upcoming exhibitions, patience will remain our companion.
30 Americans runs through September 8, 2013.