Black Art History Refuses to Die

By Cheryl McGinnis

  • Art market is based on artists being exhibited in galleries and museums
  • The women of Gees Bend art is compared to the quilts of male mid-century artists

I believe it is important to contemplate the recent news that African American artists are finally getting a foothold into the art market. There’s also been a lot of focus on how difficult black art dealers are hard to come by. One must ask themselves why and what needs to change by taking a trip down art history lane.

Why This Matters: The art market is a difficult one to understand, penetrate and to predict. So much of it is based on which artists are being exhibited not only in important galleries, but also university museums. At university and college museums is where typically where one finds scholarship. Students can visit the exhibits with their art history classes and on their own. They have professors who may have advised on a particular exhibit. Thus making the artist and their work live on through art history.

Some of my favorite American artists, the women of Gees Bend Alabama. These African American women created from a sheer need to provide warmth for their families, some of the best works of art America has seen. A new generation of both male and female African American artists are finding inspiration, roots, and a pathway to a future of black art.

So many people look at Gees Bend today and immediately compare the quilts to white male mid-century artists. As if to say “yes” they do matter because unbeknownst to these women, they were creating patterns like the educated, white male artists who ruled the mid-century art world.

I am truly grateful that Amelia Peck, on of the curators, puts it into perspective this way: “To say that they look like abstract paintings is an easy, though superficial, way to understand Gee's Bend quilts. The women making these quilts never saw the abstract paintings that their work supposedly created,” Peck said.

Situational Awareness: Just a little food for thought: what if the work that was being created by minorities and women were not considered “formal” or “art” but rather a craft. If the artists did not have formal training, did not know of the aforementioned canon of art history. What if the artist’s of that culture doesn't even have access to their own relics or history? How can they create something that would work within a market that idealizes the well- educated artist whose work is on track to be included in the canon?

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