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Can a New Website Save Black Arts Criticism?

Arts.Black is creating a space for new voices in contemporary art

In 2014, Taylor Aldridge realized that the increasing "march" of black artists into museum institutions, as The New York Times put it, was not being met with criticism and scholarship from black voices. The power to contextualize and canonize works by contemporary artists largely falls on white critics who reflect the lack of diversity generally found in western art institutions. On her Facebook, Aldridge asked, “Where are all the young black art critics?” Jessica Lynne responded and together Aldridge and Lynne created a website called Arts.Black to serve as a platform to diversify the collective understanding of art by publishing reviews and essays written by black critics about art made by both black and non-black artists.

ARTS.BLACK editors Jessica Lynne and Taylor Renee at ArtPrize 2015 credit: Ash Arder

“Our mission is to prioritize the writings and voices of emerging black critics. We are interested in the voices of black folks that identify across many geographic borders, languages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and political stances," explains founding co-editor Lynne. “The site really exists as a platform for those critics to develop a portfolio and ultimately move on to larger art publications whose mastheads are not diverse. We want to position Arts.Black as a space where emerging critics can flex their muscles a bit, because if you don’t have critics of color with different life experiences and perspectives, the field suffers.”

Jack Whitten Retrospective Installation Shot, Courtesy of the Walker Art Center

Arts.Black’s focus on young black perspectives in contemporary art allow for a new generation of voices to redefine the cannon. The 25 pieces of criticism published by the platform so far have provided fresh insights on works that define our visual culture. The digital platform has also sought to challenge dominant narratives in art history that find little relevance in today’s world but continue to unduly exert influence over standards of beauty, sexuality, and subjectivity. “It’s important to have writers who are not just straight white men,” Lynne tells the Creators Project. “It acknowledges that there have been marginalized bodies that have existed outside of the ecosystem of the art world.” She adds, “We have to think about who gets to do the documentation and historization of these works and critics play an important role in that process.”

Photograph of Kosi Nnebe, Montreal Based painter. Credit: Spencer Edwards

Justin Allen’s essay, "Lace Parts: On the Work of William Marcellus," garnered visibility and a serious consideration of the artist’s work. The site’s interview series, In Conversation, has allowed critics to speak to cultural nuances that might run through an artist’s body of work. To encourage young black art critics to write, Lynne says, “We have a standard of rigor but we generally allow contributors to write about what they are interested in and we think about contemporary art as not just limited to fine art.” The art criticism website recently published Serubiri Moses’ film essay, "Notes on Postcolonial Theory as Cinematic Fantasy."

“We want Arts.Black to be another imprint in the continuum of black textual production," explains Lynne. “We hope that Arts.Black can become a living archive—a repository that can breathe and move as the art world changes.” Arts.Black joins Kimberly Drew’s Black Contemporary Art Tumblr in trying to digitally carve out a place where black contemporary artists and critics can be catalogued. “We want it to be a tool where people 20 years from now can look back and be able to say, ‘This is what was happening on the scene in 2016.’”

outgettingribs, 0.0 mi away, William Marcellus, courtesy of the artist

To learn more about Arts.Black, click here.

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