Monday, August 23, 2010

Robert Johnson at the DuSable Museum

As Philip Kennicott opines here ,
perhaps the hey-day of ethnic museums is passing.

Victim of the great American melting pot.

Chicago has quite a few of them,
the best one being
the National Museum of Mexican Art
which regularly has good exhibits
of both historical and contemporary
Mexican art.

Coming in second,
would have to be the
Ukrainian Institue of Modern Art
which doggedly sticks to an East European Modernism
even as Post-Modernism
has pushed it into history.

Despite, or perhaps because of
their tragic 20th C. history,
East Europeans still seem to desire an art
that inspires and delights them.

Third, would be the

Spertus Museum

which occasionally
has had a good show,
although funding cuts have taken their toll,
and the excellent permanent collection
has been demoted to a
"grandma's attic" kind of display.

Beyond that,
the other institutions
would best be called
"community centers"
offering auditoriums,
meeting halls,
and occasional exhibits.

Which is where the
DuSable Museum of African American History
fits in.

It's got a permanent display
of African art,
but the pieces are so weak,
and the lighting is so poor,
it's really no better
than its animatron Harold Washington
that blinks its eyes and dips its head
in a theme-park reconstruction
of the late mayor's
office at city hall.

I suppose the Mexican museum
is the most vibrant
because that community is so filled
with recent immigrants
and still keeps its
native language and customs.

But there's a good reason
to keep these ethnic museums going
even after assimilation has taken place.

Namely, that they can offer
a positive alternative
to the norms of the contemporary art world,
and exhibit many good artists
who focus more on life issues
than on contemporary art theory.

A case in point,
being the statue of Dusable
show above.

The sculptor was Robert Johnson,
about whom absolutely nothing else
is available on the internet.

He made this piece back in the 70's.

The museum's bizarre restrictions on photography
required me to shoot the piece
from about 40 feet away.

(thank goodness for my wide angle lens
and motion correction feature)

some day,
the Dusable Museum
will show more of that sculptor's work,
and other African American artists as well.


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