University Gallery Showcases Local Black Artists

Issue Date: 
November 16, 2015

National statistics indicate a lack of ethnic diversity in leadership roles at art museums. A survey by the Association of Art Museum Directors and the American Alliance of Museums puts the number of Black museum curators, conservators, and educators at 4 percent.

Larger Than Life by Rusty Anklez

To illuminate this disparity and to celebrate the artwork of local Black artists, the University Art Gallery on the Oakland campus is showing a free, student-curated exhibition titled, “Exposure: Black Voices in the Arts,” through Dec. 11.

Artists represented include James Edward White, Frank Floyd Hightower, Jo-Anne Bates, Tina Williams Brewer, Todd Steele, George Gist, Ramon Riley, Thaddeus Mosley, Carl “Dingbat” Smith, and many others. The works use a broad range of media and evoke diverse experiences and unique creative perspectives. 

What makes this exhibition unique is that it was planned, curated, and designed by undergraduate Pitt students who are taking the Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar. This annual course is offered in the Department of History of Art and Architecture within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Taught by Society for Contemporary Craft Executive Director Janet McCall, it offers students the rare opportunity to assist in the implementation of an art exhibition from the ground up.

McCall says it was important for the students to realize the dearth of Black artists and curators represented in institutions and galleries.

Street Telemetry by Natiq Jalil

“We want to increase awareness of this gap,” she said. “We tell the students, ‘You are the future leaders who can help bring about a change.’” McCall says that in her 40 years of working in the arts, she continues to be “discouraged by a lack of progress in diversifying the visual arts field.”

University Art Gallery Curator Isabelle Chartier says Pitt’s own collection is developed around gifts from donors. It has strong holdings of American art, Chinese and Japanese art, European prints and drawings, woodcuts and sculptures by Gertrude Quastler, and much else.

“It’s an eclectic collection, but there are many gaps in it, including African American art,” said Chartier. “As we develop new strategies for our collections and educational mission, our hope is to initiate projects and work toward future acquisitions that can close those gaps.”

The gallery is located in the Frick Fine Arts Building. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.