“Together the works functions as a “constellation,” both as a metaphor for stars that form a pattern and as a representation of a gathering of dynamic, kindred artists. As suggested by the title, the connections drawn here present just one possible combination among an infinite variety of configurations.” — studiomuseum.org
The name is perfect. A Constellation allows for every star to have its own definition. Alterity in the pieces in A Constellation is often very profound and has nothing to do with the everyday. The trick for these artists seems to be to remove the colors from the every day all the while grounding the work in undeniable analysis. Betsye Saar is a standout and her alterity is extremely convincing given her use of color, wood, imagery and history. The list goes on and on of artists who not only represent difference but also seem to seek self-affirmation from a black viewer or to offer an expression of one’s self to anyone else.
The Studio Museum’s very first directors included a Howard graduate who was a Deputy Commissioner for Cultural Affairs in New York City, Courtney Callender. They belonged to a group of black museum directors, including Margaret Burroughs who ran the Dusable Museum, and John Kinard who ran the Anacostia Museum. They ran museums in order to serve black communities. The museum’s shows in the 1960s and the 1970s, such as Invisible Americans and Living Space: An Exhibition on Low Income Housing, were political. The museum even threw Kwaanza Fairs. It began to change in the 1980s. Mary Schmidt Campbell became director in 1977, and she believed that the Museum should be first and foremost an art for art’s sake museum and not a political museum. Thelma Golden was hired as the head of the Museum in 2005. Golden had been a well-known curator at the Whitney Museum for her shows such as Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary Art. Golden seems to be best at grouping artistic individualities together as black without speaking for any individual artist through an enclosing headline or explanation. She is the original Afro-Punk. A Constellation, though organized by an Assistant Curator, Amanda Hunt, seems to be in the same direction.
The modern-day model for the museum is a product of the French Revolution. It’s not a coincidence that many museums look like the former homes of monarchs — many of them are. During the French Revolution, The Louvre, the king’s personal museum, was declared everyone’s museum. Before The Louvre became the people’s museum, museums were where Monarchs kept paintings. A modern-day museum is at the service of a population. A museum that focuses on black art has to also add to the general discourse about race and art. The Studio Museum is doing both well. If it considers participating in street culture through a festival or something of the sort, it could be that much more significant to popular culture. Perhaps it’s in the administration’s plans.