The New York Times, or perhaps more accurately, T: The New York Times Style Magazine posed a rhetorical question, disguised as journalism/"insightful cultural commentary"... I read it more as a, you-can't-sit-with-us manifesto/advertisement for Jack Shainman's mythological largesse. But that's probably my hateration acting up again. Or not. I mean, I can't front. I wish I had the foresight to allude to Linda Nochlin's seminal (uterine?) text, perhaps even securing a space within such an influential publication. But who am I kidding? I've probably got 10 more years before my I-been-said-thats provide a written entry point into the Gray Lady. As a contemporary remedy I can serve up my own response as to "Why Have There Been No Great Black Art Dealers?" , with a non-exhaustive list:
The most successful black artists are represented by white dealers.
High powered collectors, whatever their national/ethnic/"racial" identity, overwhelmingly buy from from white dealers.
To be considered a 'black dealer' you must first, be a particular kind of 'black', and also represent ‘black’ artists.
Although this is predominantly true for any dealer who specializes in work by black artists™, black dealers™, in particular, are mostly restricted to representing figurative artists. If, on the rare occasion the work is abstract or conceptual, it must refer to a specifically black cultural product™ or black experience™ .
Black people are most often assigned the subordinate role in our socio-cultural narrative, and racism requires a foil. This establishes a non-porous boundary for perceived “greatness”, which is determined by, you guessed it, white people™.
Time. Let's take the recent brouhaha surrounding the Kerry James Marshall Painting purchased by Sean Combs in 2018 for 21.5 million USD. Originally acquired for 25,000 USD in 1997 by Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority - which holds controlling interest in the largest convention center in North America - Puffy, as he was also known, helmed the NO WAY OUT Tour, and had a reported net worth of just over 12 million dollars in that same year. All of the above is context for following ‘read’: Making millions from a $25,000 investment would have been a much more interesting story than what essentially amounts to ‘popping tags’ to the tune of $21,500,000. This typified behavior doesn’t really create a narrative where “Great Black Art Dealers” can exist, or a place where American artists (and their heirs) get a cut of the resale, nor does it inspire a lucrative black™ collector base beyond entertainers or athletes. Meanwhile, all the players continue with their assigned seats -- innovation on lockdown.
Five years ago, I didn’t realize that having a woman of color as my dealer/gallerist would become an important part of my resistance. Five years ago, I would’ve been beguiled by the Marshall price tag, the highest for any living black artist, and I wouldn't have given a second thought to who the biggest winners actually were in this scenario. Five years ago this packaged tale of “under-representation” would’ve been taken at face value, a New-Negro Spiritual to soothe my own feelings of systematic inadequacy. But it’s 2018. Everything is political. Buy Art and handbags, black people™, they are not mutually exclusive.