Thursday, June 4, 2009

Validate Yourself...Questions 6 and 7

This is a continuation, parts 6 and 7, of the series of questions posed by the Black Artists of DC (BADC). Why did you start collecting black art exhibition catalogues? Why did you establish the Guide to Black Art Exhibitions?

Collecting black art exhibition catalogues was a gradual and evolving process. As a collector of black (African American) fine art, I strongly believe that a collector of art should be familiar and knowledgeable about the literature surrounding that art. I'll refer to this as the history and documentation of fine art. Very early on, I had a keen interest in learning about the fine arts and became very active in the gallery and museum world. As a learning experience, I slowly began collecting catalogues, simply by purchasing them from the various exhibits I attended locally and when traveling. The main purpose was to learn more about black art and artists and to be knowledgeable and able to speak intelligently on the subject. The more I read and learned, the more I wanted to know. There was a natural curiosity of how individual artists fit into the whole picture of American art.
As my knowledge base increased, my library skills kicked in and I recognized that there was a gap in the literature focusing on black art/artists. There simply did not appear to be enough information out there in the key journals and monographs, and in a naive sense, I wanted to attempt to fill that gap by creating a repository containing documentation of ephemeral materials, monographs and exhibition catalogues. In comparison to other cultural fields, including the performing arts, I recognized that printed material in fine arts literature was less available. I began to refer to these gaps in the literature as the missing links in our black cultural heritage. As I began to study and use the collections in the various black repositories and even major libraries in general, I realized that so much was missing in those collections. Even when books and catalogues had been published, they seemed not to exist in many of our libraries. A great part of the problem probably stems from the fact that most of the catalogues are published in small runs, usually no more than 3,000 copies and are usually available only at the actual exhibition venues. There is not a mass distribution plan, unless the exhibition is national in scope, meaning that it is a traveling exhibition. Consequently, the exhibition catalogues are acquired on a more regional basis rather than national.

Collecting became a passion and I aggressively scoured standard bibliographies to identify what had been published by decade, starting in the 1980s and moving backwards to the 1950s. So, the basic strategy was to see what was available on the secondary market based on a list of titles that had been published. I created my own list of definitive or must have titles and began the search from that point. The Internet was an invaluable resource, introducing me to the secondary market of book dealers. I was able to locate titles from across the country and many for a nominal cost, particularly those in smaller cities and less urban locations. It was not until recently that there has become competition to acquire the literature focusing on black art/artists. Even among collectors of black art, there may not be a concerted effort to collect the print materials relating to the art or the artists. I refer to these materials: books, exhibition catalogues, show announcement cards, press releases as part of the documentation of black art/artists. Because of my interest in documentation, I wanted to acquire as much as I could afford in terms of primary and published materials on black art/artists.

The Black Art Project publishes the Guide to Black Art Exhibitions, and the Guide has gradually evolved to where it is today. When I began the publication, it was born from one of those ah ha moments. For years, I collected exhibition catalogues and each year in the process of looking for the latest exhibition catalogues, I would discover exhibitions with and those without catalogues. Consequently, each year I had amassed all of this information on black exhibitions and literally did nothing with it; it was raw data. After about 3-4 years of having accumulating then destroying the information after I purchased the catalogues, I realized that the data collected was not available in any single source, so I came up with the idea of pulling the information together in some meaningful way. That meaningful way took the form of the annual Guide to Black Art Exhibitions. It is such a good feel to know that others might benefit from these efforts and black art/artists are documented in some tangible sense. I strongly believe that there are many small ways that many of us can contribute to this documentation and preservation of our visual arts culture. The immediate use of the Guide is apparent; but the Guide, in some small way, does its part to document. My hopes are that it will or can be a tool that others will use, at a later date, to write a part of a bigger story.
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1 comment:

  1. Mr. George McKinley-Martin:

    I recently received an email about the Black Art Project.Your explanation on how you got started on the project really captured my attention in that I too have experienced a similar "AH-HA"moment. Only mine had to do with the capturing,recording and documentation of my family's history and background as slaves, slave descendents and quilt makers,here in Freestone County,Texas, since the year 1851. Bits and pieces of information on the county,the people in it and my family's background here were discovered over the years and gradually,since my childhood.It all began with my curiosity to know more about the area of collecting stamps and my love for my grandmothers' homemade quilts. At one point I too realized that all this valuable information needed to be recorded by someone for future generations to enjoy and benefit from and thus realized that if it was to be accomplished...I had better get started cause no one else in the family seemed even remotely interested in doing so....Thus my inevitable "SELF APPOINTMENT" occurred.

    I invite you to visit our blog at and experience and enjoy our legacy.

    Sherry Ann