Letter to the Editor Art in America (unpublished)
© Lorraine O’Grady, 1984
Unpublished letter re the omission of Kenkeleba Gallery and O’Grady’s The Black and White Show from the feature section, “Report from the East Village: Slouching Toward Avenue D,” in Art in America, Vol 72 No 6 (Summer 1984). Receipt not acknowledged.
October 22, 1984
Elizabeth C. Baker
ART IN AMERICA
850 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022
Dear Elizabeth Baker:
I would like to set the record straight. “TOXIC JUNKIE,” which you use as the lead photo for Art in America’s “Report on the East Village” (Summer 1984), did not appear miraculously and spontaneously on East 2nd Street between Avenues B and C. It was specifically requested by me from John Fekner for “The Black and White Show,” which I curated at Kenkeleba Gallery on that block in April 1983. The mural was created in time for the show’s opening, and even its colors were stipulated by me. My intention in commissioning it was to expand the political content of the show (black-and-white work by black and white
artists) through connecting the art inside the gallery with what was happening outside on the street—at the time, East 2nd Street between B and C was still the biggest drug block in Lower Manhattan.
I’m not at all implying that “The Black and White Show” should be mentioned whenever “TOXIC JUNKIE” is printed, for the mural now exists independently and powerfully as a piece of John Fekner’s. However, I do think your editorial decision not to send a critic to look at “The Black and White Show” raises questions both about your attitude toward black curators and gallery owners, and toward not-for-profit spaces.
By any standard, “The Black and White Show” was a major event—a complex and subtle grouping of such disparate artists as Jack Whitten and Keith Haring, Lauren Ewing and Nancy Spero, Randy Williams and Stephen Lack, Adrian Piper and John Fekner, Gerald Jackson and Judy Blum, and Lynne Augeri and Louis Renzoni. Perhaps I should say, it was a major show by any standard other than that the curator and gallery owners were black. ( . . . )
But Art in America wasn’t alone in passing up “The Black and White Show.” It was ignored by virtually the entire art press, and noted only briefly by The East Village Eye. ( … )