Making Race: Modernism and "Racial Art" in America
University of Washington Press, 2011
Paperback, 256 pages, $40
Jacqueline Francis (Visual and Critical Studies and Painting/Drawing faculty) explores the flowering of racial art rhetoric in criticism and history published in the 1920s and 1930s, and analyzes its underlying presence in contemporary discussions of artists of color. She specifically looks at the cases of Malvin Gray Johnson, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Max Weber, three New York artists whose work was popularly assigned to the category of "racial art" in the interwar years of the 20th century. The term was widely used by critics and the public at the time, and was an unexamined, unquestioned category for the work of non-whites (such as Johnson, an African American), non-Westerners (such as Kuniyoshi, a Japanese-born American), and ethnicized non-Christians (such as Weber, a Russian-born Jewish American). The discourse on racial art is a troubling chapter in the history of early American modernism that has not, until now, been sufficiently documented. Francis juxtaposes the work of these three artists in order to consider their understanding of the category and their stylistic responses to the expectations created by it, in the process revealing much about the nature of modernist art practices.