At the close of the 1960s, black American artists saw their work taxed with formidable and often constraining expectations. Many working at that time—including Peter Bradley, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Mel Edwards, Fred Eversley, Al Loving, Alma Thomas, and Jack Whitten—remained steadfastly committed to abstraction and modernism. But this commitment came at a cost: black cultural authorities branded their work non-representative and the artists out of touch. Darby English’s book will examine how abstraction functioned within the context of the black liberation struggles of the early 1970s through an analysis of the configuration and reception of two 1971 exhibitions—one at the Whitney, the other at a disused cinema in a Houston ghetto—featuring works by African-American abstract painters.

Darby English is the author of How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness (MIT Press, 2007) and co-editor of Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress (originally MIT Press, 2003; republished Rizzoli, 2007). The recipient of grants and awards from the College Art Association, the Getty Research Institute, the Institute for Advanced Study, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, English is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago, where he has taught modern and contemporary art and cultural studies since 2003. At the University of Chicago, he is affiliated faculty in the Department of Visual Arts; the Center for Gender Studies (CGS); and, the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture (CSRPC).