Paint It Black Panther: Emory Douglas at the New Museum

The LES hosts the work of a true revolutionary artist

Douglas's near invisibility in the mainstream art world can be explained by the fact that art that's deemed "political" has been effectively quarantined. The reigning art ideology in the '60s and '70s was a formalism that rid art of referents to the "real" world. In Douglas's work, the real world is evident everywhere, from Vietnam to Algiers to Nixon to what's happening on the streets of Oakland.

Durant relates that Douglas seemed ambivalent about showing his work in a museum context. No mystery there: Museums are notoriously good at ridding art objects of sticky contextual references. This exhibit makes selections that shape the context, but does a good job of attempting to translate a holistic version of Douglas's vision. It also brings us back to Douglas's work and the Panthers' original raison d'être: racism. For, with all its left-leaning liberalism, the art world is as racist as the rest of the culture. Galleries are wastelands when it comes to exhibiting or employing people of color.

A different mode of art-making: From Black Panther, July 22, 1972
The collection of Alden and Mary Kimbrough
A different mode of art-making: From Black Panther, July 22, 1972


'Emory Douglas: Black Panther'
The New Museum of Contemporary Art
235 Bowery,
Through October 18

The Panthers' ultimate struggle transcended racism, however. It was against oppression and capitalism and imperialism—spurred on by Marx and Frantz Fanon. For all its lip service, the commercial art world is funded by the classes skewered in Douglas's work. It's no wonder why, after 30 years, Douglas is getting his first major museum showing.

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