Maurice Berger Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Maurice Berger, the multi-hyphenate art historian, critic, curator and author, has died of complications related to the coronavirus (Covid-19). He was 63.
Berger was born into a Jewish family on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1957, and was raised in a public housing project with a predominantly black and Puerto Rican population. This childhood setting largely nourished his outlook and interests, as Berger would go on to dedicate a huge amount of his lifes work to research on how race plays into currents in the arts, long before such conversations became more commonplace.
Berger received his undergraduate degree from Hunter College before pursuing a PhD in art history and critical theory from the City University of New York, where he studied with the critic and art historian Rosalind Krauss. In 1990 he published the essay Are Art Museums Racist in the September issue of Art in America, in which, as the text puts it, he set out to “examine the complex institutional conditions that result in the exclusion or misrepresentation of major cultural voices in the United States”.
He stated that, “sad to say, with regard to race, art museums have for the most part behaved like many other businesses in this country—they have sought to preserve the narrow interests of their upper-class patrons and clientele. It is the upper-class, mostly white bias that I want to interrogate in order to find out whats going on with whiteness (as the writer Bell Hooks might say) at one of Americas most racially biased cultural institutions—the art museum.”
Beginning in 2012, Berger wrote the Race Stories series for The New York Timess Lens blog, where he often drew connections between current events and historically important American photographers like Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange and Robert Frank. In a pivotal entry from the blog, written in the wake of the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, Berger wrote, “a vast majority of Americans are good people who are clearly repulsed by what that they have witnessed in the photographs of Charlottesville,” adding, “but the very ordinariness of the people these images bluntly represent underscores that bigotry is not solely perpetrated at the extremes and as something exceptional. It is everywhere, having infiltrated every corner of society and culture, in places and institutions on the right, left, and in the middle.”
“As a Jew, I have known anti-Semitism. As a gay man, I have known homophobia,” he wrote in a Race Stories entry titled Using Photography to Tell Stories About Race, “But neither has seemed as relentless as the racism I witnessed growing up—a steady drumbeat of slights, thinly-veiled hostility and condescension perpetrated by even the most liberal and well-meaning people.”
In 2018, the International Center of Photography (ICP) awarded Berger the Infinity Award for his New York Times column. “Im very interested in writing about the things that would normally not be written about, like issues of race that people are uncomfortable with,” Berger said in an interview with the ICP on the occasion of the award. “Photographs are all about focusing, its all about details stilled to one moment, and sometimes, if you capture the right moment, that story—that image—is more valuable than as many words as you could summon. Its why Frederick Douglass was the most photographed American of the 19th century, its why the great leader and intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois curated an exhibition on the portrait.
“The camera could be used, not just to sway white peoples opinion—that was maybe secondary—but to allow African Americans, who were under the gaze of a mainstream cultuRead More – Source