We’re thrilled to announce our new Black Art, Theory, and Culture series, helmed by series editor Jordana Saggese!
For the 2022 annual meeting of the California Art Association, we share a conversation between our Art History Editor Archna Patel and Jordana Saggese about how the goal of the series, and what types of projects Jordana is looking for.
Jordana Moore Saggese is an associate professor of American art and the former Editor-in-Chief of Art Journal. As an internationally recognized expert on the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, she has published two books on his life and work – Reading Basquiat: Exploring Ambivalence in American Art and The Jean-Michel Basquiat Reader: Writings, Interviews and Critical Responses. Her essays on race and contemporary culture have been published in journals such as Artforum, Nka, and The International Review of African American Art. She has written essays for Khan Academy and Ted-Ed, and is a frequent speaker at
Archna Patel is Associate Editor of Art History. Prior to joining the press, Archna worked at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center and at numerous art galleries and institutions in Los Angeles. She earned a BA in history and art history from UCLA. Archna is excited to cultivate scholarly books that critically amplify the practices of overlooked artists and communities, and publish ambitious general interest books that better enable us to understand the place of visual culture in the world.
Archna Patel: In your work as an art historian, a teacher, a Basquiat scholar, and the editor-in-chief of Art Journal – where you oversaw the first-ever issues focused on “Game Studies,” “Blackness,” and “Trans Visual Culture” – you have been a leading voice to diversify the field by spotlighting overlooked artists and supporting the scholars who write on them. Can you tell us more about how you conceived this series, and what most excites you about it?
Jordana Saggese: Over my career I have consistently questioned whose histories are told within the discipline. At Art Journal I had the privilege to work with scholars committed to new modes of scholarship, those that revealed the biases of modern and contemporary art history and the suppression of the works of artists outside the so-called “mainstream.”
I have seen the field lean more toward theoretical and interdisciplinary approaches, but I recognized that we still have work to do to preserve the histories and legacies of Black artists. A lack of critical scholarly attention makes these histories especially precarious. There are few archives; works by Black artists are not well represented in large public collections. This historic failure to recognize the work of Black artists threatens to lead to a total exclusion.
The Press has had the privilege of working with you on your recent books, The Jean-Michel Basquiat Reader and Reading Basquiat. Reading Basquiat especially has a similar aim to the series, as it expands scholarship on an understudied Black artist who played a significant role in contemporary American art. How do you see the series building on this recent work?
I have always discussed the place of Jean-Michel Basquiat as simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. He is arguably one of the most recognizable figures of contemporary American art. In the last decade alone, record-breaking exhibitions have opened in London, New York, Montreal, Boston, Sydney, Paris, and Tokyo. His drawings populate the fronts of mass-produced T-shirts and hoodies, watches, shoes, and backpacks. But somehow, I published the first scholarly monograph on his work twenty-five years after his death. Reading Basquiat was always intended as an invitation, as an opening of a conversation about this work. However, I realized after its publication in 2014 that the lack of accessible information (and even artworks) created a problem for historians wanting to work on the artist. The Basquiat Reader was an opportunity to share my original research as well as difficult-to-find source material —an archive of sorts, in the absence of official repositories for his records and works.
My experience researching Jean-Michel Basquiat taught me the potential of working outside of the confined boundaries of the archive and with the powers of the creative imagination. But it also introduced the very real challenge of writing art histories in real time, especially for popular artists. I know that, as the art world increasingly moves toward privatization, the role of scholarly publications will be ever more crucial to providing critical historical content as well as access to works (via reproduction) that are otherwise unseen. I want to use this series to support that kind of scholarship, to counteract the deliberate suppression of the work of Black artists by museums, archives, and other cultural institutions.
What are the kinds of books and stories you hope to publish in the coming years?
A major interest of this series is the publication of first scholarly monographs for prominent, yet woefully understudied, African American artists. I am interested in cultivating a generation of scholarship in a critical moment (i.e., while these artists are still living). To name just a few, this list includes: Emma Amos, Edgar Arceneaux, Kay B. Brown, Beverly Buchanan, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Sonya Clark, Willie Cole, Charles Gaines, Renée Green, Lyle Ashton Harris, Wadsworth Jarell, Maren Hassinger, William Pope.L, Simone Leigh, Wangechi Mutu, Senga Nengudi, Faith Ringgold, Joyce J. Scott, William T. Williams, and Fred Wilson.
What should authors do if they are interested in submitting to the series?
I am, most of all, a collaborator. Interested authors can always reach out to me directly to discuss potential submissions (at any stage of development) at firstname.lastname@example.org.