Black on Black

A roundtable discussion with African-American artists about working in Houston

Ann Sieber ...When an institution does outreach, it sounds like that's a have, reaching out to the have-nots. And I hear people here saying why should we accept the traditional institution, the white power-structure definition of "we're the haves"? The question in my mind is about the black institutions, the black culture. Why don't they do outreach?...

Sanders We do outreach every day. Every day... This is outreach. Going to the MFA is outreach.... It's not in my community, so that's outreach, to remind America that there's no American culture without bringing in all the flavor and aroma of America. It's always intellectualized and there's always some baggage that's carried along. Who the heck knows why we have this baggage? And I guess I won't find that out until I meet Jesus.

McGee Things are really serious at the moment. And to keep walking on ice like this -- I don't see how we're going to do it. But art can heal. I've seen it heal. It's healed me. ...Every time I go to the galleries or museums I'm looking to be healed....

I had an interesting experience. You know that Spectrum theater on Augusta showing Schindler's List? I can tell you I was there before the lights went out and I was the only brother there. And that's a big theater.... I could tell there were a lot of Jewish people there. I can hear them talking amongst themselves. I have a phobia about sitting in the middle of the theater. But I sat in the middle. The lights went down, and the movie wore everybody out. This Jewish woman sitting next to me, when the lights went up, was grabbing my hand and squeezing it. Total stranger.

That went beyond political things, the tensions between Jews and blacks. I believe art can heal. Other folks think we're just being romantic and carrying on, but we're not.

Malone Thinking about this particular show at Blaffer -- in a very small way it shows the evolution of a segment of the African-American and the American market. Annette was talking about a definition of black art. The reason why that definition holds so strongly is that when the white institutions began to collect the work, it was figurative work. But our expressions change. Yet, those institutions are holding steadfast to those definitions they had ten, 20, 30, 40 years ago.... But we're not waiting for their definitions.

McGee With the "Fresh Visions" show, they treated the art special, like a big singing group, like the Commodores. You know what I'm saying? I went to some gallery. I walked through the door, but I was not David McGee before this year. I'm David McGee now and I thought the dudes didn't have the time. It's a fickle thing. So for vanity's sake, they try to corral us.

Malone Personalities are the mainstay of the art world. Nobody can look at art by Kostabi or Koons and not look at their personalities. If you want to achieve success on that playing field, it's something you have to deal with to a certain degree. That's why I like a piece David has in this show -- it's from a series called "Entertaining Negro." That's a matter-of-fact thing. Often, you've got to entertain somebody you don't necessarily want to deal with just to get where you want to go.

McGee ...When you meet these people, you have to keep entertaining them, knowing that they've treated you like this in the past. If I'm going to come clean and start over again, I don't have to do this. What is the sacrifice? My dealer tells me that this person doesn't like me, so my art won't sell? No. That's a bunch of crap and I refuse.... But now, I'll be called angry, black, bitter or homey. I don't do that anymore -- and that's the beginning of a solution.

We always have to think about solutions. Any fool can talk about the problems.... You don't need somebody on television telling you what pain feels like. The problem is so big, so profound, it's like Job trying to come to terms with God and God saying if I told you, you wouldn't understand it. It is bigger than us all. It is a big, big problem to make art. Like this boy told me, think of the foolish idea to take pigment and put it on canvas while someone is getting their brains blown out downstairs -- and why not?

To make art, it's a soul thing and as old as the ages. I've asked myself -- what am I doing here in this cold studio on Chenevert? There's no air. I ainÕt got no money, ain't got no job, my girlfriend's gone, the dog's dead. What am I doing? I'm keeping myself alive. Believe it or not, a lot of people get it. A lot of people see the reason why to get that degree. Everybody else is pulling triggers.

Samples ...The artist gives the work over to the dealer, the dealer gives the work over to the museum where it sits and sits and sits and gets lost in the shuffle.... The art is not in those buildings. The art is in the people right here. And people out there and things out there. Out in nature. After I started going to U of H and got involved with Lawndale, it was artists taking it upon themselves to be their own critics, because the writers weren't there. And I'm thinking about Bert Long, when he started his publication called Art Scene. He incorporated other artists to go to other studios they knew of because the institutions, like the CAM, weren't showing anyone locally. CAM was just showing so-called blue-chip art and it was a freak incident that James Surls curated the "Fire" show made up of regional artists. That same sort of thing carried over to Lawndale. And I can see the same thing developing again -- artists taking it upon themselves to get things going.

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