Posted by: tedmikulski | December 3, 2009

Where is all the African-American Art?

While laying out topics to explore further (some of which may or may not turn into books), I stumbled upon an interesting topic.  While beginning research for my next publication I took a moment to think about African-Americans place on the art spectrum.  Unfortunately, there are only really three African American all-stars in art: Raymond Saunders,  Jean-Michel Basquait, and Kara Walker.

Whereas I have an abundance of white artists names and work floating through my head I found this anomaly to be rather interesting.  I also happen to think that this attribute is primarily associated with African-American artists and not with other non-white races.  It seems as though Chinese artists, artists from the Middle-East and Hispanic artists have and are making enormous strides in modern/contemporary art.

This issue in many ways can be related to the  struggle that women have had in art for centuries.  According to Jerry Saltz, in his New York Times article, only 3.5% of artists in the MoMa are women.  The MoMa of course being a singular example but I feel that it is an accurate example none-the-less of the massive ignorance towards women artists in history.

That being said, I think it is fairly accurate to associate African-Americans in a similar struggle.  The reasons for these struggles is somewhat obvious, being that African-Americans were largely oppressed until 1975.   It is also not like art wasn’t being created.  After the civil war for instance, there were several African-American artists who became notable later on, like Richmond Barthe, Aaron Douglas and Malvin Gray.   One of the more interesting stories of African American art was the group ‘The Highwaymen’.

The Highway men were a group of 26 African-American artists who were being largely rejected by galleries in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Because of this rejection, they sold their works out of the trunks of their cars.  Today they are now recognized as some of the best artists to come out of Florida during this time period.   Some artists were indeed entering the gallery scene during this time (like Norman Lewis and Sam Gilliam) but they were still widely ignored.  When the civil rights movement hit in the 60’s and early 70’s, more centers for African-American art began to emerge.  It was because of their resolve that African-Americans finally had artistic centers around the country.

Fast forward to present day.   I believe it to be ashame that the majority of the permanent collections at museums and galleries have an enormous lack of African-American artwork.  But then again, if we look at the timeline of oppression, African-American art is in its ‘acceptable’ infancy.  It is still growing and with it, will gain the respect and admiration of all who support and love art.  There are so many African-American artists out there to love: Camille Billops, Mark Bradford, Edward Clarke, Richard Hunt, Dimitri Wright, Alison Saar, Gale Ross, Joyce Scott… the list goes on and on.


  1. Check out Joe Sam, he exhibited at Tunxis and is pretty well known.

  2. I’m getting to this a bit late, but you’re absolutely right. Great post.


    • Glad to hear you agreed Bliss. Looking forward to your blog.

  3. Hey Ted. I respect that you brought this topic that many in the African American community themselves even care to acknowledge. Yes there is disparity as mentioned, but I must observe the reality that our own themselves for the most part tend to view many of us artist as a simple novelty and nothing more; in essence, we the artists begin to believe how our community perceives us after they buy into the culture at large perceives us so. Sad, but this is the consensus i’ve discussed with two significant african american artists (one of international stature). Now respected more is photoshop and corel draw on commercial driven imagery and even so we still lack representation in this area. This ad next to your blog “Art is Dead” sounds intriguing and may shed further rational as to my thoughts on this outside of a given race; cause in the big picture…art is being by upper echelons and middle class (RIP) and the poor have no say but to buy into what is defined as art today.

  4. According to mass media, there are ONLY three African American artists. Although this post is nearly three years old, this is still somewhat of an actuality, or at least what is perceived by most. Ultimately, the venue in which art is communicated to the masses is through Museum Institutions and Galleries. Prominent American museums just prefer not to highlight work from African Americans, and when they do, the portrayal tends to be a vulgar and explicit one… Feel free to check out my most recent article on African American at at

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