Time for some more talk about the preponderance of white dudes in the canon. I’ll be (mercifully?) brief. Maybe I should have a segment header for this:
Eh, maybe not. But, via the really great—non-toxic—Twitter account @womensart1, I found the work of Margaret MacDonald, a key influence on the Glasgow School and, I think it could be argued, the Arts & Crafts movement as well. Her Wikipedia page sets her as an influence on Klimt, and it seems plausible his work borrowed ideas she painted around the turn of the 20th century and exhibited in Vienna.
I think she’s another who deserves to be studied and lauded along with Klimt.
It’s called “deaccessioning,” the reverse of acquisition. It’s also controversial in many cases, because the job of a museum is to preserve, and selling off pieces of their collections is the reverse of that. But it’s not all one thing, a monolith of bad policy used to shore up a sinking ship torpedoed by rash decisions. Sometimes there are good and healthy and right decisions that lead to the practice.
I’m mostly referencing this Hyperallergic article, and as they point out, some museums are deaccessioning works to diversify their collections beyond the traditional white-male-heavy stacks. Sometimes they’re honing their educational mission. As we patronize and contribute to museums with our time and money, we ought to keep the big picture in mind. What does the overall collection look and feel like? How are they living up to their values? And so forth.
Every bit as genius as several of the abstract expressionist leaders was Thai painter Tang Chang, and his work is the subject of a retrospective at The Smart on the U of Chicago campus. When I look at Chang’s work, including “concrete poetry” (I need more of that in my life), it’s easy to see how narrow my view is—even with some significant effort, both in school and out of it, to broaden it—of what works and artists are important and need to be remembered, versus what we’ve been told.
It’s not that the wacky bunch of brooding white dudes didn’t do amazing things. It’s that they weren’t the only ones, and weren’t always the best or first doing them. There’s always a massive pile of feverish creation going on at any given moment. We share the same penchant for art, all of us humans.
Chang was halfway around the world from Jackson Pollock and de Kooning. If we’d had the internet in the 40s, would his stuff be exhibited with theirs? Would his name be mentioned alongside theirs? I think it’s important to keep searching for an expanded view of art history, and who has languished in obscurity while we lazily hold up the same set of dudes as our important icons. There’s a lot out there to know, discover, and understand.