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The 1971 Contemporary Black Artists in America exhibit mounted by the Whitney Museum at​ ​the height of the Black Arts Movement, a period when black political art was celebrated,​ ​generated opposition. Twenty-four artists withdrew from the exhibition because the Whitney,​ ​which refused to hire any​ ​black curators or co-curators and invited an assortment of artists whose​ ​only similarity was their race, had the effect of boxing black artists into a singular “marked”​ ​category as black artists. Art collector and supporter of civil rights activists John de Menil saw​ ​the resistance towards the exhibit and urged artist Peter Bradley to curate a modern art exhibit​ ​that didn’t simply tokenize black artists. Galvanized by his frustration with the Whitney​ ​Museum, Bradley curated The DeLuxe Show, which opened in Houston as the first racially​ ​integrated art exhibition in the US. Unlike Robert Doty, the white curator of the Whitney exhibit,​ w​ho wanted to showcase the “Black experience,” Bradley defied the idea of “black shows and​ ​white shows” and​ ​promoted good black artists, affording them the same attention as good white​ ​artists. Beyond his curatorial work as a retort to the narrative that museums were pushing on​ ​black artists at the time, Bradley’s work as an artist also serves as a response. Working with a​ ​nonrepresentational style, as​ ​seen in his 1974 painting Linne II, Bradley refused to submit to the​ ​pressure for black artists to create figurative art that would contribute to the expression of Black​ ​struggle, insisting instead on pursuing abstract painting.



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Color and Abstraction: Peter Bradley’s Resistance Against “Black Art” Through Curation and Painting