Jun 3, 2020
News

The art world’s engagement with #BlackoutTuesday came under fire from critics and activists.

Members of Black Lives Matter, Philly Real Justice, and thousands more rallied on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum on May 30th. Photo by Cory Clark/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Members of Black Lives Matter, Philly Real Justice, and thousands more rallied on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum on May 30th. Photo by Cory Clark/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

As demonstrators across the United States flooded the streets in the second week of protests over the murder of George Floyd, artists, curators, and institutions flooded social media with black squares and messages of solidarity as part of the #BlackoutTuesday campaign. The campaign, originally conceived by music executives Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang as a way for record labels to halt promotion for the day and instead focus on Black activism, quickly spread across all realms of social media, with industries of all kinds joining in. However, many found the campaign, and the art world’s contributions to it, to be patronizing at best and harmful at worst.
One of the largest criticisms of the way many engaged with the campaign was that it made important information for on-the-ground organizers who use hashtags as an avenue for communication much harder to find. By flooding the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag with black squares, participants were impeding activist efforts.
The posts were also criticized for being an ineffectual form of activism that let institutions off the hook from taking more meaningful steps. Before Tuesday, many institutions—including the Brooklyn Museum, the Getty Museum, and the Guggenheim Museum—made statements that didn’t mention the victims of police violence by name or Black Lives Matter. By the same coin, many institutions that posted black squares were criticized for not reflecting their stated commitment to antiracism in their hiring and programming practices. “Do black lives matter on your curatorial team or board?” critic Antwuan Sargent wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “Do they matter in your collections and shows?”
Khuroum Bukhari of the London-based gallery Tiwani Contemporary told The Art Newspaper:
Just as Russian artist Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 Black Square was an ‘emptying out, of all the habits, tricks, skills, clutter and values associated with painting’—the Black Square used by many today is an emptying out of voice and inimical to articulated and vocalised anti-racism. A black square on social media would only make a radical and powerful statement if you posted it every day until black people achieved justice and parity in the U.S.