Dawson on the Black Panthers
The WaPo's Jessica Dawson does a really good job in reviewing "Black Panther Rank and File" at the Decker and Meyerhoff galleries at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.
She also makes a good point when she writes:
"The exhibition was organized by San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in conjunction with Claude Simard, a curator associated with New York City's Jack Shainman Gallery. Shainman represents many of the contemporary artists on view; the gallery also supplied a number of historical pieces.And Dawson also hits the mark dead on when she questions:
Though Shainman is a well-known source for African American artists and ephemera, Yerba Buena's association with a commercial gallery raises questions about conflict of interest. The show favors Shainman artists, who gain exposure on this small museum tour -- "Black Panther Rank and File" originated at nonprofit Yerba Buena, traveled to nonprofit Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art and now hangs in a university gallery. That kind of exposure can translate into higher earnings for Shainman artists, casting a shadow over this otherwise strong show."
"But what of the Panthers' critics, of which there were many? For the most part, this is a pro-Panther project. Yerba Buena worked closely with former Panther Bill Jennings to construct the show; he's even credited for suggesting the project."When I was a kid in Brooklyn, one of my first jobs was in a store on Belmont Avenue that used to have a sidewalk stand outside its doors. My job was to stand outside, freezing my buns in winter, broiling in the summer, and watch the stand and either send people into the store when they bought something and needed change, or to take their money if it was an exact amount. I was also the "chaser," when someone grabbed something from the stand and ran away with it.
Usually, if the gonif was being chased, he'd drop the merchandise and keep running, and I would return it to the stand.
But back to the Panthers.
During that time the Black Panthers were big in Brooklyn, and about once a month they'd come by Belmont and Pitkin Avenue hitting all the stores for "contributions" to their various programs. They were one of three such groups that demanded, not asked for, but demanded, some sort of cash flow in order to assure some degree of safety.
In addition to the Panthers, my employer (a Cuban Jew named Simon, who was fluent in Spanish, Yiddish, Polish and German and who used to smoke huge cigars all day long) had to grease the hands of the local Brooklyn cops and the local Mafioso. Of the three, the cops came by most often.
Dawson finishes with "...the only overtly critical work comes from the painter John Bankston, who points out Panther homophobia in his 2005 canvas 'The Sermon.' In it, two latter-day Panthers have seemingly strong words for a transvestite and his companion."
A really good review for what sounds like a very interesting exhibition. The show is up through Dec. 16. Read Dawson's review here.
PS - Museums, non profits and commercial art dealers have been dancing together for a long time and will continue to do so. Here's something I wrote in 1995 (do forgive the 1990s style website) about the Gene Davis legacy to the museum where he was a Commissioner. When that piece was published in the WaPo back then, I actually received a couple of hate phone calls.