The White-on-White Canon of Modern Art Is Being Reimagined. What Belongs in It?

In honor of MoMA’s return, we asked four curators.

Mother Jones' illustration / Getty

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

On Monday, New York’s Museum of Modern Art reopens after a four-month renovation to its permanent collection. This was an expansion in every sense, not just of the collection but of the modern art canon it embodies. MoMA is carving out more space in its galleries—once dubbed “Modern White Guys” by a critic—for female artists and artists of color. “Today we’re saying: Of course there are many histories; the collection represents those many histories,” Ann Temkin, MoMA’s chief curator of paintings and sculpture, told the New York Times about the renovation. “Don’t repeat the dogmatism of the past.” In the same spirit, we asked curators from around the country to tell us which pieces, in their view, belong in the new, reimagined canon.


Anthology by performance artist Clifford Owens

“For a performance of a score written by Maren Hassinger, Owens asked the audience to work together to position his limp, nude body as described by the instructions. Owens had to trust that the audience members would handle him with care as they placed him in various seated poses. His examination of the black male body and its attendant strengths, vulnerabilities, and traumas has been prescient in this time of Black Lives Matter.”—Christopher Y. Lew, Whitney Museum of American Art


Three paintings by Freddy Rodríguez

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Danza Africana, Amor Africano, and Danza de Carnaval, all from 1974 and in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, recall the curves of a dancer moving to the beat of Caribbean music. The colors syncopate and bounce through the surface of the painting in ways that remind me not only of the Caribbean region but also of the sounds of New York City in the 1970s.” —Marcela Guerrero, Whitney Museum of American Art


Untitled #20 (Dutch wives Circled and Squared) by Howardena Pindell

Howardena Pindell Untitled #20 (Dutch Wives Circled and Squared), 1978 Mixed media on canvas 86 × 110 in. (218.4 × 279.4 cm) Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Albert A. Robin by exchange, 2014.15

Nathan Keay, MCA Chicago

“Pindell infuses the circle—the basic geometric form—with a personal narrative about resilience in the face of oppression, be it racial or gendered. By taking the painting off the stretcher in the 1970s—cutting the canvas and recomposing it by piecing and stitching it together—she alludes to domesticity and feminist ideology. The work continues to make us think while we breathe in the beauty.” —Valerie Cassel Oliver, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts


Xenobia Bailey’s cosmic-funk fiber art

Jenna Bascom / Museum of Arts and Design

“For years, Bailey has been working with fiber and craft techniques to create bold and colorful structures, wall works, and installation. She’s a trailblazer with a singular vision who is still producing dynamic work.”—Eugenie Tsai, Brooklyn Museum

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate