When New York Times art critic Ken Johnson penned his review of an LA art show featuring the work of African-American artists from the 1960s-80s, or his preview of an all-female art show at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, we bet he had no clue that he would shortly be the focus of multiple articles and a petition to have the New York Times acknowledge that his work in the review and preview were “below the editorial standards” of the Grey Lady.
The issue is whether Mr. Johnson fully understood the art he was writing about and whether or not his ideas about African-American and female artists are very well developed. The petition, which includes the signatures of notable artists and art historians, aimed for 1,000 signatures and is currently up to 1,200. It cites his evaluation of African-American art as dealing with one set of issues, while “white” art is somehow more standard, freer, as he says, “deracinated.” At the LA exhibition, called, “Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960-1980,” the only artist he seemed to approve of was David Hammon, whose work he praises in part because, “You don’t have to be black to feel that.” Perhaps he’s missing something else.
In his preview of the upcoming PAFA show, “The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World,” Johnson guesses that female artists face a glass ceiling that he believes may be partially due to sexism, “But it might also have something to do with the nature of the art that women tend to make?” He goes on to say that, “Anyone with a theory about that will have a good opportunity to test it.”
Were his words poorly-chosen? Is he unable to understand the realities of art produced by non-white males? As an art critic for the New York Times he certainly should not have either of those problems. The only other possibility is that he’s right, and only certain people are equipped to “get” art, and if you don’t like it, well you can sign the petition. We’re interested to see if he offers a response.
You can read a full text of the petition and sign it over here.