In the March issue of Art in America magazine, MFA Art Criticism and Writing Department Chair David Levi Strauss addresses claims of racism and sexism in the writing of New York Times art critic Ken Johnson. Johnson’s reviews of two fall exhibitions (“Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980” at MoMA PS 1 and “The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World” at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia) provoked more than 1,600 artists, writers, and critics to launch an online petition asking the Times to correct “ill-informed arguments” and “irresponsible generalities” they felt Johnson used to compare women and African-American artists to white male artists.
Strauss emphasizes that the real issue is “the frustration of recognizing that the institutions of the art world and the language still used there can slide back all too easily into a pre-1960s de facto racism and sexism.” He goes on to express dismay that it is still necessary, in this day and age in America, to make an argument for the social function and effects of art. Citing “Now Dig This!” and “The Female Gaze” as examples, Strauss notes that these exhibitions and others like them provide a corrective to white male dominated art historical narratives of the recent past by showing an aesthetic sensibility that more accurately represents contemporary American life. Johnson will reply to the article and address related issues in a forthcoming issue of Art in America.