Thoughts on why the carousel panel belongs in the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia

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MAG Director Jonathon Binestock and myself

• August 28, 2015

Yesterday, having written on the Charlotte Carousel, this evening at Thursdays at the MAG, I looked more closely at the museum’s artwork by and about African-Americans.

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MAG Director Jonathon Binestock kindly explicated several exquisite pieces for me:

The works of art in our collection by or featuring African Americans are truly exceptional. Tonight we’re opening a reinstallation of our modern and contemporary art galleries.

Here, in our Forman Gallery, is a stunning portrait of artist Mickalene Thomas’ favorite subject model, a woman named Qusuquzah. She glitters with rhinestones and other rich embellishments. Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of a young man from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, shows him nobly in the context of an Old Master painting format. Another work I love is Beauford Delaney’s portrait of Charlie Parker, arguably the most important and influential jazz musician of the 20thcentury. Delaney himself was a master, and this is an outstanding example of his work, which shows Parker glowing in celestial, transcendental, yellow light.

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Robert Lee McCameron’s (1866 – 1912) New Orleans Man, same time period as the carousel panel

My renewed appreciation of this art–both revealing and making more complex our understanding of the African-American experience–reinforced what I wrote yesterday. If the pedestrian and offensive caricatures on the carousel are to go to a museum, (I am not entirely against keeping the panel with an explanatory plaque) it should be the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan.

The Jim Crow Museum‘s mission is to provide a rich historical context for illuminating such markers of race, past and present. The MAG–while hardly presenting its art ahistorically–is ill suited to display the panel which would only be a curious anomaly. The MAG‘s mission is to show the best, brightest and sometimes darkest creations of the human imagination — not a common work of Americana little more than a product of its times.

jon 3The rest of the evening, as always at the MAG, was delightful. Several hundred people strolled the foray and galleries, enjoying the opening of Jacob Lawrence:The Legend of John Brown Portfolio. The jazz was soft; the H’ourdouvers ourdourvery; the conversation lilting; the ladies fair and the gentlemen gallant. The summer of love in Rochester not yet over.