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5 Essential Works by Maurice Berger, Late Art Historian Who Made Race a Central Concern

Historians in the News
tags: art history, historian, coronavirus, Maurice Berger



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“Are Art Museums Racist?” (1990)
First published in Art in America, this essay is considered Berger’s most famous piece of writing. Berger begins by discussing a showing of a David Hammons work at New York’s New Museum, which Berger considered one of many gestures by “curators with good intentions to ‘include’ the cultural production of people of color,” and then ties it to a larger trend facing major institutions across the United States, many of which have long had staff and boards that are predominantly white. “Not until white people who now hold power in the art world scrutinize their own motives and attitudes toward people of color will it be possible to unlearn racism,” Berger wrote.

White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness (1999)
Though Berger is best known for his art-historical work, he occasionally ventured into other related fields, and in this book, his subject was whiteness and the way that people of his race had created a society that was oppressive toward people of color. Informed by Berger’s upbringing—his father was a mentally ill worker who believed black Americans deserved rights, his mother a Sephardic Jew who espoused racist beliefs—the book explores how, as Berger put it, “there is no ‘white’ culture—unless you mean Wonder Bread and television game shows.” The book was a critical success, with the New York Times calling it “startlingly original” upon its release.

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