Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

NGA’s America: Still 99.4% white, 100% male

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Two years ago I walked through the National Gallery of Art’s then-recently re-opened West Building American art galleries and noticed something strange: I’d walked into a remarkably narrow slice of American art. The NGA’s presentation of America’s art history started in the colonial period and went up to roughly Marsden Hartley — and its hanging included almost only white men. In 2009, 167 artworks were on view in the NGA’s American galleries. One hundred and sixty-five of them were made by white men. One was made by a black man, Joshua Johnson’s The Westwood Children (c. 1807, above) and there was a card indicating where a Harriet Hosmer was supposed to go. (I never did see that Hosmer installed and the registrar’s card was eventually removed.) One painting was unattributed.

Two years later, nothing’s changed. On a recent afternoon, I updated the count: There were 169 works on view in the NGA’s American galleries. All 169 were made by men. The fantastic Johnson was still on view, as was the unattributed painting. (There are artworks by American people of color and American women in the museum’s East Building modern and contemporary galleries.)

Two years ago I pointed out that there’s no art historical reason for the National Gallery of Art to present such an exclusive, country-club-style history of American art. Furthermore, the NGA is our National Gallery. Its operations and the maintenance on its buildings are substantially funded by the American taxpayers, including $111 million for operations in FY 2011, plus another $48 million for restoration and renovation of buildings. We deserve better.

Related: This 2009 post details some artists the NGA has excluded. Also, last year the Thomas Cole National Historic Site presented “Remember the Ladies,” a commercial dealer/gallery-affiliated exhibition of little-discussed women artists of the Hudson River School.

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  1. art critic says:

    that is disgusting. the art scene is a big club and if your not a member forget it.

  2. Thank you Tyler! This is the most powerful and personally meaningful piece by you that I have ever read. Without using the ‘R’ word, your message is loud and clear. The curatorial and research perspectives at the NGA are clearly limited by cultural and racial bias. This is a philosophy that emanates from the Board and the Director. Despite their review of well-documented research on Rothko’s indebtedness to indigenous — a view now supported by many scholars — the NGA refuses to engage in a cross-cultural dialogue which will be needed if their upcoming Rothko volume is to be a historically accurate and non-Eurocentric study.

  3. DSL says:

    Was the creation seperate venues outside of the NGA supposed to address this issue or are they just hollow gestures designed to placate dissent?


  4. Tyler Green says:

    Those are independent institutions that are not affiliated with the NGA in any way.

  5. mizage says:

    We need to get past race and gender. Art is color-blind

  6. […] years since the museum re-installed its West Building American art galleries. In June I noted that all 169 works in those galleries were made by men and that up to 168 of them were made by white men. When the museum debuted its remodeled American […]

  7. […] several years I’ve criticized the NGA’s presentation of American art, noting that as long as it insisted on presenting […]

  8. […] an only-in-Pat-Buchanan’s-wildest-fantasies version of American art history. (June 2009, June 2011,  February 2012.) A somewhat similar debate is underway over how the Tate Britain should present […]

  9. […] galleries to an art history of white men, and almost no one else. Two years later there was no improvement. Especially considering that the NGA is substantially supported by American taxpayers, the situation […]

  10. Paula says:

    Our observations on viewing works of importance are controlled and will continue to be this way until people stand together to make a difference. Just the notion of knowing that there are, a great many pieces of works contributed by ethnic minorities hidden in archives gives fresh hope to the notion creativity should not be judged by ethnic identity. ( A Black Photographer)

  11. […] the hanging of a third artwork (out of about 170) by a non-white-male painter last year was news. As recently as 2011 the NGA hung zero works by non-male artists in its American […]

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