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July 14, 2003

Center for Art and Visual Culture presents White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art

Cindy Sherman imageUMBC's Center for Art and Visual Culture presents White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art, organized by curator Maurice Berger, from October 9, 2003 through January 10, 2004. The exhibition features works by Max Becher & Andrea Robbins, Nayland Blake, Nancy Burson, Wendy Ewald, Mike Kelley, William Kentridge, Barbara Kruger, Nikki S. Lee, Paul McCarthy, Cindy Sherman and Gary Simmons. An opening reception will be held on October 9th from 5 to 7 pm.

About the Exhibition
White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art is the first exhibition of art that explores race and racism from the perspective of white people. Over the past twenty years, the cultural and scholarly discourse around race has expanded to include the study of whiteness and white privilege. This inquiry represents a radical shift in the way we think and talk about race in the United States. Since the advent of the modern civil rights movement, people of color have usually been responsible for leading the debate and discussion about race and racism—a discourse that has traditionally centered on the issue of African-American, Latino, Asian-American, and American-Indian victimization. While people of color are forced to evaluate the status of their race in relation to the prejudice they experience every day, most white people, even the most liberal, are usually oblivious to the psychological and political weight of their own color. It is precisely this unwillingness to mark whiteness, to assign it meaning, that has freed most white people from the responsibility of understanding their complicity in the social and cultural economy of racism. The study of whiteness asks all Americans—and especially white people—to take stock of the political, psychological, economic, and cultural implications of white skin, white entitlement, and white privilege.

A number of visual artists—some white, some of color—have taken their lead from progressive writers and scholars who have used the concept of “whiteness” to denote the racial counterpart of “blackness.” To these artists, whiteness is something that must be marked, represented, and explored. To them, whiteness is not just a color. It is also a ubiquitous and unexamined state of mind and body—a powerful norm that had been so constant and persistent in society that white people have never needed to acknowledge or name it.

Gary Simmons' Big StillWhite: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art gives voice to twelve contemporary artists who explicitly address the issue of whiteness: Max Becher and Andrea Robbin's German Indian series (1997-98)—photographs of German men, women, and children who regularly attend carnivals dressed up as Native Americans—examines white people's fascination with and appropriation of racial otherness. Nayland Blake's Invisible Man (1994) challenges the socially and culturally prescribed boundaries of race, questioning both the purity and meaning of whiteness itself. Nancy Burson's Untitled (Guys Who Look Like Jesus) (2000-01), the culmination of a national search for people who believe they look like Christ, depicts eight men of varying ages and races. The series challenges one of Christianity's (and whiteness') most generative and foundational myths: that of Aryan purity as a metaphor of godliness and the triumph over evil. Wendy Ewald's White Girl's Alphabet—Andover, Massachusetts (2002), a project created in collaboration with teenage subjects, represents a poignant, humanistic exploration of the vulnerabilities and ambivalence that underwrite both whiteness and femininity. William Kentridge's Drawings for Projection Series: Johannesburg—2nd Greatest City after Paris; Monument; Mine; Sobriety, Obesity, and Growing Old (1981–91) are a series of short films based on charcoal drawings that play on the medium's innate black-and-white aesthetic to explore the complex, and often fragile realities of white power and black subservience in apartheid-era South Africa. Barbara Kruger, in a work specifically commissioned for the exhibition, will create a billboard series in a number of neighborhoods in Baltimore City. In Nikki S. Lee's The Yuppie Series (1998), the Korean-born artist infiltrates and documents the world of mostly white, economically privileged Wall Street professionals, meticulously adopting her colleagues' code of dress, behavior, and living habits. The series represents both a meticulous documentation of white privilege, clannishness, and exclusivity as well as Lee's own alienation in the face of white racism and indifference. Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley's Heidi (1992), an hour-long video, represents a disquieting journey into the dysfunctional behavior and emotional brutality that they myth of the pristine and wholesome white middle-class family attempts to conceal. Cindy Sherman, in a series of early photographs, each depicting the artist masquerading as a bus passenger, depicts a range of racial and class “types” that include some of the earliest attempts by a visual artist to see whiteness as both a racial category and a stereotype (Bus Riders, 1976-2000). In another series, Untitled (2000), Sherman fixes her lens on white women, cycling through a range of characterological (and often stereotypical) types, from the erstwhile female executive to the WASP matron. Gary Simmons' Big Still (2001), a monumental, white-washed moonshine still, is a monument to the world of white poverty—the hillbillies and “white trash” of depression-era America—that has been erased from a mainstream history defined by white patriarchy and white power.

White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art will be accompanied by a 100 page catalog edited by Maurice Berger, the first book devoted to the subject of whiteness, race, and art. The catalog, to be published by the CAVC and distributed by Distributed Art Publishers (DAP), will contain essays on whiteness in the culture at large by David R. Roediger, Professor of History at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the social and legal implications of whiteness by Patricia J. Williams, Professor of Law, Columbia University School of Law, as well as an extensive curatorial essay by Maurice Berger. The curatorial essay will include an introductory text on whiteness and art, as well as a text for each artist in the exhibition. The catalog will contain 50 illustrations, a checklist and bibliography.

Maurice BergerAbout the Curator, Maurice Berger
Maurice Berger is a Fellow at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics of the New School for Social Research in New York and Curator of the Center for Art and Visual Culture at UMBC. He received his undergraduate degree summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Hunter College. He later served as a Junior Fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University and received his Ph.D. from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His articles have appeared in many journals and newspapers, including Artforum, Art in America, The New York Times, The Village Voice, October, Wired, and The Los Angeles Times. He is the author of the critically acclaimed White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999)—which was named as a finalist for the 2000 Horace Mann Bond Book Award of Harvard University and is being adapted as a television documentary for PBS (2002)—and six other books: Labyrinths: Robert Morris, Minimalism, and the 1960s (Harper & Row, 1989), How Art Becomes History (HarperCollins, 1992), Modern Art and Society (HarperCollins, 1994), Constructing Masculinity (Routledge, 1995), The Crisis of Criticism (The New Press, 1998), and Postmodernism: A Virtual Discussion (Georgia O'Keeffe Research Center/CAVC, 2002)

About the Center for Art and Visual Culture
The Center for Art and Visual Culture is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study of contemporary art and visual culture, critical theory, art and cultural history, and the relationship between society and the arts. The CAVC serves as a forum for students, faculty, and the general public for the discussion of important aesthetic and social issues of the day. Disciplines represented include painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, photography, digital art, video, film, television, design, architecture, advertising, and installation and performance art.

Since 1989, the CAVC has incorporated a number of public programs into its exhibition programming schedule to further impact the communities it serves. Symposia, lecture series, conferences, film series, visiting artist series, and residencies have all been fundamental in an effort to create an ongoing dialogue about contemporary art and culture. The Center has also initiated a number of projects with Baltimore and surrounding schools systems to integrate the contemporary artist and their concerns into the classroom. These projects take place on-site at both middle schools and high schools and are team taught by the instructors at these schools, professional artists, and students from the CAVC's Internship Program.

Currently the Center produces one to two exhibition catalogues each year. Each document is fully illustrated and contains critical essays on the given subject by a variety of distinguished professionals in the field. With the printing of Minimal Politics: Performativity and Minimalism in Recent American Art in 1997, the CAVC inaugurated a new series of publications entitled Issues in Cultural Theory. These catalogues are published yearly and are distributed internationally through Distributed Art Publishers in New York.

Since 1992, the Center for Art and Visual Culture has actively pursued the organization of exhibitions that contain the aesthetic, theoretical, and educational potential to reach both a national and international audience. Over the years, the CAVC has traveled these exhibition projects to a broad spectrum of museums, professional non-profit galleries, and universities national and internationally. These traveling exhibitions include:

  • Fred Wilson: Objects and Installations (2001)
  • Adrian Piper: A Retrospective (1999)
  • Bruno Monguzzi: A Designer's Perspective (1998)
  • Minimal Politics (1997)
  • Kate Millet, Sculpture: The First 38 Years (1997)
  • Layers: Contemporary Collage from St. Petersburg, Russia (1995/96)
  • Notes In Time: Leon Golub and Nancy Spero (1995)
  • Ciphers of Identity (1994)
  • Nancy Graves: Recent Works (1993)
  • Environmental Terror (1992)

Beyond the scope of these traveling exhibitions, the Center for Art and Visual Culture also undertakes an exhibition schedule that includes a Faculty Biennial, and projects such as the Joseph Beuys Tree Partnership. As part of the educational mission of the CAVC, one graduate thesis exhibition and one undergraduate senior exhibition are scheduled on a yearly basis.

This multi-faceted focus for presenting exhibitions, projects and scholarly research publications focused on contemporary art and cultural issues positions the Center for Art and Visual Culture in a unique position within the mid-Atlantic region.

Hours of Operation
Sunday: Closed
Monday: Closed
Tuesday: 10 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.
Wednesday: 10 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.
Thursday: 10 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.
Friday: 10 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.
Saturday: 10 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.

CAVC offices: 410-455-3188
UMBC Artsline (24 hour recorded message): 410-455-ARTS
Media inquiries only: 410-455-3370

CAVC website:
UMBC Arts website:
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Department of Visual Arts:


  • From Baltimore and points north, proceed south on I-95 to exit 47B. Take Route 166 toward Catonsville and then follow signs to the Fine Arts Building.
  • From I-695, take Exit 12C (Wilkens Avenue) and continue one-half mile to the entrance of UMBC at the roundabout intersection of Wilkens Avenue and Hilltop Road. Turn left and follow signs to the Fine Arts Building.
  • From Washington and points south, proceed north on I-95 to Exit 47B. Take Route 166 toward Catonsville and then follow signs to the Fine Arts Building.
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Nancy Burson imageImages for Media
High resolution images for media are available online:
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Photo Credits

  • Cindy Sherman, Untitled (#405) (2000), color photograph, edition of six, 44" x 33". Courtesy the Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica, and Metro Pictures, New York.
  • Gary Simmons, Big Still (2001), painted foam, fiberglass, wood, metal. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.
  • Nancy Burson, Untitled, from the Guys Who Look Like Jesus series (2000/01), digital photographs outputted as Iris prints on vellum.


Posted by dwinds1 at July 14, 2003 12:00 AM