Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art

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9780874270938: Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art
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The popular image of African-American men has gone through several transformations since the rise of the Black Power movement in the late 1960s. This book, which is the catalogue of an exhibition that opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in November 1994, chronicles these changing perceptions of African-American masculinity as interpreted in painting, sculpture, photography, and mixed-media work, as well as in film and video. More than 70 works have been selected, by 29 leading artists of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Hammons, Robert Mapplethorpe, Adrian Piper, Andres Serrano, and Lorna Simpson, among others, explore such issues as personal identity, sexuality, and social history. The catalogue includes six essays by leading voices in African-American art criticism and cultural studies: Elizabeth Alexander bell hooks, Isaac Julien and Kobena Mercer, Tricia Rose, Andrew Ross, and Greg Tate. The film and video section is the work of five scholars in African-American studies. Herman Gray, Ed Guerrero, Philip Brian Harper, Valerie Smith, and Clyde Taylor each curated a film and video programme, and their essays examine critical and theoretical points of view concerning mainstream and independent film and video as well as commercial television. Essays by Thelma Golden and John G. Hanhardt present overviews of the problems and challenges confronted by representations of black masculinity in the various forms of artisitc expression.

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Black Male is the catalog for what was a major and somewhat controversial exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In her introductory essay, curator Golden explains that she used "five historic signposts" to guide her study of the evolution of images of African American men in the years following the civil rights movement. The first was the aggressive and rampantly sexual look of the black power era, followed by blaxploitation films, the tragic "endangered" status of black men in America, the rise of rap and hip-hop, and the "video-imaging" of such high-profile tragedies as the Rodney King incident, the Clarence Thomas hearings, Magic Johnson's AIDS confession, and O. J. Simpson's arrest and indictment. Golden and her contributors, including Henry Louis Gates Jr., Ed Guerrero, Bell Hooks, and Andrew Ross, discuss the irony and danger of stereotypes; the implications of various perceptions of black masculinity; black men in films; and iconographic public figures from Malcolm X to Michael Jordan. The artworks themselves include paintings, photographs, sculptures, and movie stills by such artists as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leon Golub, Spike Lee, Robert Mapplethorpe, Gordon Parks, Alison Saar, and Lorna Simpson. While this catalog is long on commentary and short on art, it is, without a doubt, stimulating and important. Donna Seaman

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