Rebecca VanDiver Examines Black Feminist Curatorial Practices of the 1970s

In the fall of 1978, Corcoran Gallery of Art registrar Theresa Simmons, Renwick Gallery museum technician Edith T. Martin, and others organized a national show of black women artists to coincide with the 1979 annual meeting of the College Art Association. The show never secured adequate funding and was canceled.

aaa-2016-55-issue-2-coverRebecca VanDiver, assistant professor of African American art, examines the exhibit Contemporary Afro-American Women Artists through its documentation in the Archives of American Art. Her essay, “Off the Wall, into the Archive: Black Feminist Curatorial Practices of the 1970s,” appears in the fall 2016 issue (volume 55, number 2) of the Archives of American Art Journal, a special issue on African American art that celebrates the opening of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

VanDiver considers the historiographical ramifications of Martin’s decision to lend her research files for the exhibition to the Archives of American Art for microfilming in relation to feminist and black revisionist curatorial practices of the 1970s. VanDiver’s analysis of the failed exhibition and its paper trail offers a critique of the power and the limitations of the archive for the study of African American art.

VanDiver’s research centers on twentieth-century black women artists and African American artistic engagements with Africa. Her work has appeared in the journals Space and Culture and Transition. She is currently completing a book-length manuscript on Loïs Mailou Jones.

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