Allon Schoener, 95, Dies; Curator Caught in Furor Over ‘Harlem’ ShowBreaking News
tags: African American history, Harlem, Arts, Metropolitan Museum
Allon Schoener, the curator who organized the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s infamous 1969 show “Harlem on My Mind,” which caused protests that stopped traffic on Fifth Avenue because it didn’t include any paintings or sculptures by Black artists, died on April 8 in Los Angeles. He was 95.
His son, Abe Schoener, confirmed the death, at an assisted living facility.
The tumultuous legacy of “Harlem on My Mind,” the Met’s first landmark show documenting Black culture in America, has been revisited endlessly by critics and historians. But Mr. Schoener’s story is less known.
The storm over the exhibition fractured his life. Protesters picketed outside his apartment, he endured threats and intimidation, and he left New York with his family to start anew in rural Vermont. He never worked on a show for the Met again. But he harbored no ill will; he said he welcomed the discourse about diversity that the incident ushered into the art world, though he felt that the whole story had not been told.
“I think he asked that question until his dying day,” his son said. “‘How can I get my side of things told?’”
Over the years, as he watched “Harlem on My Mind” become a cautionary art-world tale, Mr. Schoener always felt that several details had been omitted from the popular retelling of the incident. His main contention was that the show didn’t include paintings by Black artists because he hadn’t intended it to be a fine-art show.
“‘Harlem on My Mind’ was never conceived of nor presented as a traditional art museum exhibition,” Mr. Schoener wrote in an essay defending the show in 2015. He added: “It was an articulated documentary display of photography, films, recorded Harlem voices and music. For this reason, there were no paintings and sculptures, and other traditional ‘works of art,’ at all.”
Addressing the “exclusion of Black painting, prints and sculptures,” he noted that the show celebrated Black photographers, Gordon Parks among them, and that the work of the Harlem photographer James Van Der Zee was discovered during the research for it.
But he concluded, “Although well intentioned, both the Met staff and I were inexperienced and naïve in dealing with the African-American community.”
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