whitehot | April 2008, National Black Fine Arts Show
Commodity / Anomaly
By Kofi Forson
Art fairs in general promote a decidedly understandable conclusion which is to make money from varying displays of art work. In doing so, the greatest calculation isn’t in accentuating art as philosophy or establishing semiotic relevance made applicable throughout art history.
The National Black Fine Arts Show, an annual event, showcasing art work by African-American and African artists opened at The Puck Building on February 14 – 17 in Soho, New York. In 1997, Josh Wainwright, founder and producer, launched the first National Black Fine Art Show.
The distinction made here is the qualifying of this show as “black fine art.” Much criticism has befallen this art fair for decidedly calling itself “black.” What is the greater message? Black art has seen an upsurge in artists like Kara Walker, female black artist best known for exploring intersection of race, gender and sexuality through her silhouetted figures. This then differentiates language made definitive between what is perceptively “black art” and art made by black artists.
National Black Fine Arts Show is therefore not responsible for claiming an influence on the fluctuation of black art outside of the gallery system and the marketing of those who are today’s or tomorrow’s black artists as heroes. However, its ultimate purpose is to educate the general public on translation of black history into fine art. Much of this was achieved with dedication and respect. The overall experience was worth a lesson and outright education.
The purpose once again was not in evaluating black art as current and modern. What is black art? Is it the assertion of art with particular attention given to images from black history, experience or culture? Knowingly a black artist who makes art can be viewed as black artist but the posting of “black art” has no merit.
In defining these works of art as commodity, it is representational to market them as black. Some galleries featured here were managed by white business men, Seth Taffae Fine Art and Dolan Maxwell Fine Art among them. They have indeed realized the profit made from selling what once again is “black art.” Overall, art as business was truly the purpose of the show.
It is accepted that in such a white realm of existence, art is territory claimed by mostly white men and women. For the black artist to succeed, he or she had to work up the ladder of influential dealers and galleries. Majority of galleries in the show were managed by blacks. It neither speaks on their proverbial role as curators and organizers in the gallery business nor does it exclude them overall as gallery owners.
These galleries represent their artists and their art professionally. National Black Fine Arts Show is a chance for them to introduce the art and artist. Hearne Fine Art, Little Rock, Arkansas, represents TAFA, a Ghanaian artist. He uses a technique whereby he applies color onto surface with palette knife. It gives off brilliant texture with sensational colors as in the paintings, “To Each an Inner Light” and “Freedom Drums.”
Labeling these works of art “black” fails to redeem experiences of artists who cultivate their craft through means recognized among those considered international. Dianne Smith is an abstract artist whose work has acquired a minimalist approach, unlike the majority of work assembled at the show which mostly impressed with multiplicity of colors.
Within an overwhelming space structured to include art works made primarily by black artists, National Black Fine Arts Show gave an insight to black culture, made discernible by intensely defined works of art, paintings, photographs and sculptures.
Indeed it was a celebration of black history. To then have made profit benefited both the galleries and artists respectively. The art-going public would define for itself the experience as shopping for art or marking a transcendental occasion among what simply serves as an art fair.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief