Robert Arneson’s “Black Pictures”: Race, Politics and Personal Pain

Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw
Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw

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Manetti Shrem Museum

This talk examines a controversial group of art works made by Robert Arneson toward the end of his career. Created with great passion and in a variety of media, these objects show the artist wrestling with complex ideas about racial stereotyping, political demagoguery and his own identity as he simultaneously battled the debilitating cancer that would take
his life in 1992.

In winter 2020, Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw is serving as the Manetti Shrem Museum’s first Visiting Museum Researcher. Shaw studies issues of race, gender, sexuality and class in the art of the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean. She has taught art history and American studies at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington. In 2019, she was appointed Director of History, Research, and Scholarship and senior historian at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Shaw has published extensively; her most widely read titles include Seeing the Unspeakable: The Art of Kara Walker (2004) and Portraits of a People: Picturing African Americans in the Nineteenth Century. She has curated several major exhibitions, notably, Represent: 200 Years of African American Art for the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2015), and Kara Walker: Virginia’s Lynch Mob and Other Works for the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey (2018).

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