Predictably, the brown, musty assemblage aesthetic of White, Joseph Sims and others (the heyday of which occurred in the era of beat collagists like Bruce Conner, George Herms and Ed Kienholz) carries over to the show at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, which includes work by the legendary John Outterbridge and the women of the Saar dynasty. Even such works as Weekly diva Vaginal Davis’ Dames Egardess (tiny rough portraits in makeup on cardboard), photos by Glynnis Reed (hand-painted street graphics) and Roland Charles (burnt church remains), and Mark Bradford’s lovely silver-and-blue Fly in the Buttermilk have more than a whiff of nostalgic decay.
At first I toyed with the idea that this ongoing interest in urban detritus might be something unique to the African-American artistic community, but when I thought about it, I realized that I know dozens of artists who aren’t black who still work this vein — they just never get to show outside co-op galleries. This work’s visibility here has more to do with the enormous amount of art that is rendered invisible by art-world fashions, and the power of a racial (or similarly arbitrary) curatorial premise to disrupt these protocols. Which is righteous, in addition to any community-building and role-model-setting effects the show may have.
Nevertheless, I really don’t think the place to start making political reforms is the lofty pinnacle of Western culture, a.k.a. the art world. Say, I know: Why don’t we dismantle the military-industrial complex and use the money we save to pay slave reparations? Same with Natives and Mexican-Americans. And let’s not forget all the ladies. I’ll vote for the candidate who promises all that. Then when everyone’s got economic parity, we can let the art chips fall where they may. Good black art will be good art, and bad white art will be bad art. In the meantime — for art’s sake, anyway — it helps to make believe.
FADE (1990-PRESENT): African-American Artists in Los Angeles, a Survey Exhibition LUCKMAN GALLERY and UNIVERSITY FINE ARTS GALLERY, Cal State L.A. campus, 5151 State University Drive | CRAFT AND FOLK ART MUSEUM, 5814 Wilshire Blvd. Through February 29