Ebony Magazine interviewed Naomi Beckwith, a new curator at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, about the assumptions people make about black artists and ‘black art.’ She challenges people to look outside biographical and cultural meanings to greater questions about preservation in the arts.
Here is an excerpt from the interview written by Adrienne Samuels Gibbs.
One bracelet. No earrings. Hair pulled back. Virtually no makeup. Refined jacket. Flat shoes. Clear desk. One large green leaf in a vase. A treetop view. No blinds.
Cultural “It” girl Naomi Beckwith, the newest curator at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), is a study in minimalism. She seems to reserve all the flash and chutzpah for her heady installations, the most recent of which were stationed at the Studio Museum in Harlem. In a profession full of grand egos and lofty concepts, Beckwith’s self-assured-yet-grounded analysis of who’s got next in the world of art is refreshing. She’s from Chicago, moved to London, worked in New York City and finally has returned home. She’s got a lot to share. Listen up.
EBONY: Your installations seem to be about exposing the world to artists who happen to be Black, versus exposing the world to Black artists.
BECKWITH: Yes and no. There’s no difference between a Black artist and an artist who happens to be Black. I think there is a difference between Black art and art that’s made by a Black person. When you start to make all sorts of presumptions about what the artwork is, based on the fact that the person is Black, I think that’s where you start running into trouble. There’s plenty of art being made about one’s cultural background, whether that be Black or not. But there’s also plenty of art that should be seen, I think, through all sorts of other prisms outside of that sense of biography and culture.
EBONY: Why is it important, then, to collect a variety of art?
BECKWITH: We all leave this world at some point. Civilizations even go. The structures of the worlds go, but the only things that we really look at in the end are those archeological records—the cultural artifacts. A couple millennia from now, people are going to be interested in the jewelry that people had, and [asking] how we decorated our houses.
EBONY: Will collecting this stuff, then, make us rich?
BECKWITH: It’s not just about building up literal income, it’s also about acquiring cultural capital, which I think is one of the most important things to have in the world—not that I’m going to disparage money in any sort of way. But the question is, what do you do with that money?