Kimberly Drew on the Life-Enhancing Power of Art

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: I think that there is a way that sometimes museums are seen as scary, but it’s not like a trip to the dentist’s office. It’s like the thing that you’re scared of is that you might not know. And so I hope through images, through sound, through through different programming that I’ve done over the years, that it helped to demystify it for those who couldn’t imagine themselves in those spaces.

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S3: Welcome back to Working, I’m your host, June Thomas, and I’m your other host, Ramona Lum.

S1: Remon, this week you spoke with writer and art curator Kimberly Drew, who we just heard from. I know from previous episodes that you’re a keen museum goer. New York’s museums and galleries have finally and slowly started to reopen in recent weeks. What’s the first place you want to visit?

S4: I think that I’ll probably go to the Brooklyn Museum first. It’s my local spot, and it’s one of those great encyclopaedic institutions with a smattering of everything, you know, Egyptian art, modern art, classical art. And it’s a place that I could just stroll through happily and lose myself. And I’ve really missed that place.

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S1: Yes, I it’s on my kind of walk route and it’s just been a weird landmark that’s just there but closed. So I’m really glad that we’re going to be people inside again.

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S4: Yeah, there’s something so deeply sad about a museum that is just sort of closed for business, for an indefinite period of time, because, you know, we’re members, my family, our members. You’re probably a member. And it’s just one of those things that’s like part of your walkabout routine. And if you find yourself in the neighborhood and you’re like, oh, I need to run to the bathroom, I’ll run to the museum, I’ll show them my I.D., you know, I’ll use the bathroom and maybe I’ll just, like, pop upstairs and look at something for 15 minutes, just, you know, like it’s just such a wonderful, enriching part of sort of making the circuit around our neighborhood.

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S1: I mean, so this week, we’ll be hearing your conversation with Kimberly Drew. Who is she?

S4: You know, I first became aware of Jews work on social media because that work her presence on social media earned Kimberly a lot of attention from the conventional media. You know, the art world is often a very staid, sort of fussy old world business. And, you know, Kimberly joined the Metropolitan Museum of Art to manage that institution’s social media presence. And that move alone was news. The idea that this great institution of the New York art world was sort of the global art world would deign to care about Instagram. And Twitter was kind of news. And Kimberly is a young person. She’s a woman of color. It was sort of a big deal that higher. And so I think that’s when I first became aware of her work, although it’s also possible that at some point one of the algorithms told me to pay attention to her.

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S1: She has a book I believe is called This Is What I Know About Art, and it’s written for young people, which makes me very curious. When I think of art and kids, I even think of picture books, which I’m sure it’s not, or textbooks, which I’m guessing it’s also not. So how would you describe its tone?

S4: Yes, it is an unusual text. It’s a very slender kind of autobiographical rumination on the role of art in the author’s life. It’s written in this very intimate tone. And I think that the art inclined teen reader. Right, the sort of by a reader will find the tone really alluring. It’s a little like having a conversation with a cool older person, like a cool older cousin or a cool older sibling who happens to love the same things you do. And the voice doesn’t condescend to the reader, but really welcomes them in and says, hey, this is how I came to get excited about art. And there’s something sort of infectious about it. And it made me very excited to have this book on the shelves for my kids. My my older son just turned 11 in the last month. And the idea that he might pick this up at 14, you know, rejecting a lifetime of me, trying to get him interested in art, but sort of getting excited about art because this cool older person was like, hey, you might like this.

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S1: That’s awesome. Before we get to the interview, I also want to mention that Slate plus members will hear a little something extra from your conversation in which Kimberly talks about how she got her start in this world. And she also talks about an artist that’s on her mind in these very strange times right now. If you aren’t yet a member of Slate plus you can get two weeks free. Just go to Slate dotcom slash working plus. All right. Now let’s hear Remans conversation with Kimberly.

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S5: If you imagine yourself running into one of your mother’s friends on the street and they said to you, like, what do you do? What are you doing? How would you answer that question? What do you do?

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S6: It’s funny because I think if I answer to one of my mom’s friends, I would be really specific. I’d be like, this is what I’m doing right now, which in many ways is representative of my career. And that I wouldn’t say that there’s one thing that I do singularly. I very much feel like a gun for hire and I’m often presented with different challenges. And a lot of my work is finding solutions for those challenges, whether that be the challenges of being a writer, the challenges of being an author, the challenges of working in the arts and in proximity to artists. But it’s really quite difficult to explain, even to friends in industry, what I do.

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S5: I want to sort of start in your youth, and I wonder if you can answer for me what the role of art was in your life when you were a kid.

S6: I mean, it took many, many different shapes. I was lucky enough, I was born in 1980 and also grew up in New Jersey, and so I had access to an education system where art was taught, which is not what a lot of kids and parents can say right now. So I think for me, art was always something that there was an infrastructure around, whether that was family trips to museums or I have family members who are artists and kind of have extreme proximity to creative practices. And then at school, there was always an art class kind of throughout my entire education.

S5: But was it a thing you had to have a passion or was it simply part of the texture of your life?

S6: I wouldn’t say it was a had to or like I had no extreme urgency around or until I got to college. It was just always there. And I think. If I were perhaps of a different walk of life, someone would observe kind of my natural draw to it and say like, oh, you should probably consider a career in it. But it’s so rare that people say that to young, especially young black kids. Almost no one is saying that to young black kids, actually. And so it took me my own kind of not necessarily rough and tumble, but it was definitely an explorative process to realize that that was the work that I should be doing because up until kind of. I guess until I had my first internship, I would have never thought that that would be the work that I do and now it’s kind of like my heartbeat more than anything else.

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S5: The point at which you kind of fell in love with art as a as a Grown-Up pursuit and not simply a part of the texture of your life. And this is something that you write about in your book, which is called This Is What I Know About Art. That moment occurred during your college education, like during your undergraduate years, and you didn’t grow up ignorant of art by any means. But I loved your describing a kind of adulthood awakening around. And I wonder if you could sort of talk about what that was.

S6: Yeah. I mean, I guess the thing that feels most urgent to say, though, is that I don’t think anyone grows up ignorant to art. Like we live in houses, we live on streets, we live, you know, we eat food. There’s so much art in and around our lives. And I think the most lucky of us are those who have guidance and caregivers who understand and nourish that relationship. And so for me, it was just kind of like it was always around. It was always encouraged. And that’s also how I could then later kind of after being away from home and away from my parents for six or seven years already because I went to boarding school for high school, could on my own make the decision. That was what I wanted to pursue and could see almost immediately the inherent value in it, like I never had to second guess studying art history. For me, it was more of an educational journey where I started doing I started as a premed major and then I moved on to engineering. And in art history, I was like, oh, this is how my brain wants to learn. But I think it’s really important for anyone who is in a nurturing capacity, for any person at any really stage of their life, is that there’s an understanding and importance and a value intrinsically in art. You know, even thinking about in within this covid moment, the first thing that everyone’s turning to is films and television and, you know, baking soda or whatever. Like there’s so much that we at a very basic level as humans need in relationship to art. But it’s just not privileged as or I guess respected kind of on a broad level culturally in a way that I would hope it would be seen as essential as it is.

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S5: In a way, I feel like the answer you just gave provides the answers to our first question, which is like that’s the work that you do, is sort of demonstrating. The importance of art, as you understand it, or advocating for the significance of art, as you understand it, your professional awakening around your decision to change your major as an undergraduate came in a period where you were working. You were interning at the studio museum in Harlem, and you made a blog. You made a Tumblr page called Bluck Contemporary Art. The blog would take works of art mostly by black artists or depictions of blackness. And then sort of just communicating like this is what you’re looking at, like this is the thing that you’re looking at. And to me, it is the kind of thing that, like the Internet is so good at. It’s just it has like discipline to it and it has beauty to it. And you can sort of sit and get lost in it or you can come back and revisit it over time. But now it has concluded. Is that right? Like you no longer?

S7: Well, first I’ll say it’s exclusively black artists and it’s works by black artists and or in some relationship to black culture. And that verbiage really is really specific because there are works by black artists that are abstract and in no way deal directly with, you know, the work doesn’t have to be directly interested in blackness as a subject or black subjectivity to qualify to be featured. But everyone that’s on it is black. And it is also a blog that in its construction is the artwork and then only the title of the work, the artist’s name and the year it was created, which is a lot of context because I think when things are created is really valuable. I think who creates them, of course, is of the utmost importance. And then the titles are just fun sometimes because I love like an entitled and I also love, you know, the really laborious, long winded title.

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S8: But I think it’s really important, especially in an Internet economy, to make sure that the authorship is always associated with the image. But I when I started the blog, I didn’t think that there was an art historical language.

S7: I could speak to work by black artists because I wasn’t taught it. And so it allowed people what I have described as like a primary encounter to the work. And if you want to know more, there’s usually a link to the artist’s website or a link to the website, to the museum where the work was found so that you could get that secondary kind of context and information. But I think that the the blogs greatest success was that simplicity, because you don’t have to know a lot. And that’s I kind of in an ideal world, what museums do you know they’re in within this kind of larger field of glam, which is galleries, libraries and museums where you’re not supposed to go there knowing everything, like that’s the myth of museums. Somewhere along the line, it became like, if I don’t know this, this or this, then I shouldn’t go. And I think that’s one of the greater barriers to access. So I think in its success, the blog was like, yeah, here’s just this thing.

S9: And if you come back even in two hours, there will be a new thing and tomorrow there’ll be ten new things. And you you had a lot of energy in your teen years to do this thing. Nothing like being like 19 and 20 because 19 or 20 on a small college campus, like a what relationship do you see between the work that you’re doing now?

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S5: I think that I would probably describe you and you would probably describe yourself now working as a writer. But what relationship do you see between the work you’re doing as a writer and the experiment of playing around on Tumblr?

S6: Yeah, I would say that I’m still really invested in experimentation at its base. Black contemporary art was kind of an experiment and learning, even writing was kind of an experiment because it was never something that I thought I could do. And now it’s my profession and always kind of has been my profession. Like even being a social media manager is just being a glorified copywriter.

S8: And in this phase now, I think I’m experimenting with just other forms of media and reaching people, different ways of storytelling around the arts, because I think there is a commitment and responsibility that I feel to making. It makes sense for folks. And so I think that’s the biggest part. And then in December, my next book, Black Features, will come out, which is kind of an interesting chapter in the trajectory, because it is a book that is about the kind of insecurity in some ways of the Internet. You know, like right now, black contemporary art isn’t necessarily over because it hasn’t been properly archived. And so right now, I’m working this summer to archive it. And that’s when I think in some ways at least, my participant, like the active kind of years of it, will close. And Black Futures is really a book that’s interested in saying, you know, what does it mean to be black and live right now? What does it mean that social media platforms like Tumblr, like Twitter, like Facebook have been able to allow so many black folks to create together to connect together? But if any of those platforms were to. Tomorrow, so many of those some of the records of those connections would would disappear with it.

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S5: So Tumblr is a social media platform, and you went on to have a career working in social media, specifically, you went back to the studio museum, having been an intern there as a social media manager. That was before you went to the Metropolitan Museum, right? Yeah. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about I think there’s a way in which people misunderstand what social media is, but I think that you probably have a really good answer about what it is and what is able to do. And there’s an example you mentioned in the book, but I’d love to hear you just talk about what opportunities social media presented for you in terms of telling the story about what the studio museum in Harlem was and isn’t who it was for.

S6: Yeah. So in my role at the studio museum, I was there in 2013 and I was hired as a communications assistant. So I was doing a mix of different things. I was like managing interns and working on the website and I had to learn in design like I was doing and many, many, many, many things. And I didn’t actually get a job doing full time social media until I was at the Metropolitan Museum. But when I was at the studio museum, I think I was able to employ social media to help illustrate what was going on inside the museum.

S8: Like I think at the very most base level, museum social media is one of the first instances in which constituents and institutions can be dialogical, which is what many people who, like, theorize about social media say.

S6: So you could have this, you know, question and exchange. Are you open today? Are you know who made this work or, you know, there’s fun days, like ask a curator day or something like that where you can really be in conversation. And then on the other side, I think it’s a way to have a passive, somewhat passive learning experience. So if you’re really following a museum page, you can get updates about programming, updates about the collection, you know, be able to access talks that have come up or whatever. YouTube is an incredible resource where you can learn you can watch an artist make a work on YouTube. Many museums have those types of especially educational resources. And so it’s really a resource sharing that’s happening from the institutional desk to the world.

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S5: You talk in the book about the ability to show like the interior of the gallery and show the kinds of people who were actually in there as a way of the museum being able to tell a story about itself, that maybe and maybe the institution didn’t realize that it wasn’t doing that, that, you know, it’s called the studio museum in Harlem. So maybe the institution assumed that by virtue of its geography and its name, that, like, that story would be clear to all people. And I think what you when you talk about using social media to just literally say this is what the museum looks like inside and there are people in here who look like you because they are your neighbors. And so you should come in, too. I find that very striking and I find that really. And you also talk it’s a small thing, but very telling. You talk about the stairs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where you were later working in the social media capacity. And, you know, those grand stairs represent literally kind of a barrier.

S10: Yeah, I mean, I think in general, I mean, all my friends are tormented by this, but like whenever we go anywhere, I need to see it, you know, like I think it’s like Airbnb or whatever or Zillow or Street easy, like all of us kind of do that thing where, you know, you might not be looking for an apartment, but you just kind of go and scan like I think it may. And so much of human culture, especially for those who have a curiosity generally about something like you want to have a way of not, you know, not limited to seeing, but just to being able to comprehend a space before you get there. And especially if you’re low sighted, like you really need to know how you’re going to circumambulation a space. And so being able to properly anticipate an experience, I think is such a big barrier for so many. That’s I think so it’s like not normalized to talk about. But I just I need to I need to understand the architecture of a space. I need to understand the proximity to the closest store. Like I need to know, you know, I need to see all the exits. I need all that information to have what is, you know, of vulnerable experiences, which is what entering into a space of learning is for all of us. You know, like I think that there’s a way that sometimes museums are seen as scary, but it’s not like a trip to the dentist’s office. It’s like the thing that you’re scared of is that you might not know. And that is definitely a fear. But more than anything, it’s just like in announcing a vulnerability that you may have. And so I hope through images, through sound, through through different programming that I’ve done over the years, that it helped to demystify it for those who couldn’t imagine themselves in those spaces, because there’s so many ways that institutions are shifting and changing to better accommodate, including like low vision towards and touch tours, you know, so museums are really innovating. And if you don’t know that that innovation is happening, then you won’t go and then the programs will fail.

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S8: And so, you know, because any any museum fails without its audience, like, that’s what museums are built for, is for people.

S1: We’ll be back with more of Ramon Allums conversation with Kimberly Drew after this. One of the things we’d love to do with the show is help solve your creative problems, whether it’s a specific challenge about your work or a big question about inspiration and discipline, send them to us at working at Slate Dotcom if and when we can. We’ll put those questions to our guests. OK, let’s rejoin Ramen’s conversation with Kimberly Drew.

S5: And this is what I know about are you right about an experience you had with your mother at the Whitney Museum? Where. You’re having a conversation about Warhol and it comes up that your mother is acknowledging that she hasn’t been to a museum, but really in decades and you say, I’m going to read what you write. My mother had lived for more than two decades without a visit to a museum, and it seemingly had little impact on her life. What do museums even do? Do you have an answer to that question, like, do you have an answer to why it’s important to you that people like your mother understand that museums are spaces that belong to them as much as they belong to any of us?

S10: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s I think it’s in two parts. One, that was kind of a criticism of museums in general, because I think there’s a way that especially when you’re doing the work, like you make a podcast, you know, like your assumption is that people will listen to your podcasts naturally. There’s so many ways in which we make assumptions about how the work that we do will benefit others or that people will want to participate, or that there is kind of a natural inclination around participation. And I think that’s a mistake. I think it’s our job to provide something that is relevant, something that is so well done that if someone has even the slightest contact with it, that they’re interested. Right. And that’s not always how those conversations are happening, especially in institutions.

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S7: It’s like no where the first, the best, the grandest. And so, of course, people want to come visit us. Or, you know, we had seven million visitors at the Louvre last year. Of course, people love the live. It’s like, no, we still have to invest in outreach. We still have to invest in providing experience for others. What do I think that experience is? There is no answer. I mean, for me, museums have completely transformed my life. I’ve had art experiences that have completely shifted the way that I view the world around me, the way that I do, the things I do that have on a chemical level changed the way that I see others. But is that everyone’s experience? No. Sometimes you have really bad day at the museum. Sometimes people just go to the museum because it’s raining and that’s great. Like, that’s great.

S8: You know, that they can be a shelter space or an opportunity to break from heat or they can be repositories for thousands and thousands of years of history. I think the multiplicity to me is what museums do. The abundance is what museums do. But I don’t think it necessarily is like one to one. This is what someone like my mom will get out of museums.

S7: I think my mom’s best museum experience we had ever together was going through the Met and her seeing like all these paintings of Jesus, because my mom super religious and she’s like, I know him, you know. And so like that moment of like being in a space that she doesn’t feel particularly comfortable in. But seeing these images that she knows from church, that’s important because like her kid is there every day and, you know, so I think it really varies. But, yeah, I think in general, it’s it’s too part in that we can’t assume that people are naturally going to feel comfortable or interested. And then also, if they do arrive, then maybe there is something that’s there for them, but it’s never guaranteed.

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S5: And it’s so I mean, that’s such an interesting story about your mom responding to depictions of Jesus because it’s sort of. I’m not sure that the institution always values the simple experience of joy or pleasure, that we think of museums as being nutritious or educational, but also there is something to just walking through and being like, oh, that’s a pretty apple. Like, that’s cool. Like, I wonder how they painted that. Like like maybe that can be as valid as just to have some response, whatever that responses, if it’s something that brings you happiness, that maybe that can be valid enough.

S8: I mean, I don’t think any of it is invalid or I don’t think it’s seen as invalid in my experience. I think there is millions and millions of ways that any person can interact with something that I don’t think everyone can account for.

S7: But I think there is incredible passion that goes into the study and mounting of works, which is one of the false dichotomy between like visitor and curator or visitor and art handler or visitor and conservator, where it’s like these are also people. You know, when I was at the Met, there was a Michelangelo exhibition and Carmen, who curated the exhibition, had worked on the show for 40 years. That’s a love affair. You know, like that’s not just like intensive scholarship, like 40 years, like that’s 10 more years and I’ve been alive. And that’s kind of incredible. You know, I don’t I don’t have that attention span.

S5: One of the things that I found really striking in this book, in your book, this is what I know about art. You write about being a young person working inside of these institutions. You were. Young, you were black. You’re a woman, you’re queer, so you were just there’s a lot of you carrying a lot of difference or whatever you were carrying what we call difference. But really, it’s just like you were yourself and the institution maybe was not filled with people who are like you. And we’re all dealing in our own ways. We’re thinking about police violence, we’re thinking about just like the epidemic of violence against our black citizens. And it really affected you and then you write this thing that I thought was so beautiful, my faith in the importance of art had never been more concrete. It was images, sculptures and writing that helped me wade through the anger I was feeling. Do you think Art still is performing that function for you, and do you think Art is performing that function for the rest of our citizens right now?

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S8: I don’t think that art is a one to one solution for the world’s ills, but what I do really value is the way that art can be. One, an opportunity for departure, whether that’s making art yourself, like in the beginning of covid, I was making art for the first time and probably like 10 years, which is so funny because everyone thinks I’m an artist and I’m not. But I was like making collages and it was really nice to just have a tactile activity that wasn’t touching my phone. And then I think being able to see much like literature or film to see someone else and in like I think in this case, seeing someone maybe of your similar walk of life, feeling the feelings that you may not have been able to articulate yet. It’s really powerful is why I feel like, you know, everyone loves like Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. It’s like they are so masterful at making language and moments where so many feel really incapable of making sense of the world. And then the third thing I’ll say about art that I really love, and this is just like a shout out to Meg only, who’s a curator at the ACA, FileA, but Meg among many, many other efforts. But I want to shout out Meg specifically because she started an art for Philadelphia Fund and partnered with some amazing artists to sell prints. And the money from those prints would go to support to help pay for people’s bail money.

S7: So doing Bayle fundraising and there’s just so many ways that are exists in our world, like going back to even and I learned this through Kelly Jones’s exhibition witness about the civil rights movement. But there were art fundraisers for SNEEK and art fundraisers for these incredible civil rights organizations. And there’s so many ways that not only is art, you know, a record of our time or something that we can do in real time. But it is also like this instigating force and seeing change. And so I think for me, it’s those moments, especially in a moment like this one, where I can look and see people having conversations about like, do we need museums? And what does it mean? You know, that we have them in a moment where now people haven’t been able to go to them for so long. And many are many are opening now.

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S8: And I can’t wait to go. But those questions being asked like that, teasing through, can we build a better world? Can we build a better institution in the very construction of the arts, especially the visual arts, in a way that I don’t see as rigorously sometimes because people really are like whatever like there’s a very, like, anarchist kind of stream within the visual arts.

S7: They’re like, I don’t see in Hollywood and I don’t necessarily always see in food.

S8: We’re constantly kind of mining through ourselves and picking ourselves apart and trying to do better at what we’re doing. And I think it’s because the roots of the art world are so based in just the worst things. So it’s really I think, you know, in this moment, I’m really leaning on not only my peers who are artists, but peers who are organizers. But I feel really abundantly proud to be the person who gets to dedicate so much of their life to art.

S5: I mean, I suppose I should say in this conversation that this is a book for younger people and that part of what I enjoyed so much about the book is I could picture the young kid like a younger version of you or like an older version of my own sons who are both black, being talked to in a way about something that maybe they aren’t always talked to, which is art, and being encouraged to be curious about it or to care about it or to show them through the example of your own biography what art has meant for you without saying it has to mean that for them, like the argument of the book is just like this is what I know. This was my experience. It did something for me and it may do something. And the suggestion is it may do something for them. And that feels to me like really powerful advocacy that you’re talking directly to kids.

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S8: Mm hmm. Yeah, I just want I mean, I think it circles back to the beginning of our conversation about whether art was in the background or like when, you know, radicalization or whatever moment awakening moment happens is there could be so many more if we’re given the permission. And I think especially as marginalized people, there’s just so many things that are telling us. No, ourselves included, I’ve had so many conversations with young people where they just feel like they can’t do something. And I’m like, who told you that? And I was so obsessed with like, who told you who did this? And I think in this phase, I’m just more like, OK, I’m going to not even get into the nitty gritty of why. What I’m going to say is that you can and what I’m going to say is this is how I did it. And if this information in any way helps to inspire you to do whatever it is that you hope to do, take it, run with it. You don’t have to do it in the way that I did it. You don’t have to do what I did. This is just the story of someone who did not tell themselves. No.

S11: And that’s it.

S1: Reman, that was a really lovely conversation, and I was particularly struck by her discussion of museums, not necessarily understanding how outsiders see them, which leaves many people who might well be very positively affected by what’s inside their walls, not realizing that this building has anything to offer them. And I’m curious, did you grow up going to museums? Do you recall the role that they played in your life as a kid?

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S4: Art was definitely part of the diet and my family, but it was also a particular point of my own. Teenage rebellion, in a strange way, tells you a lot about my teenage years. I spent my adolescence in the suburbs of D.C. and I was not especially popular or cool and I spent so OK. I turned out fine in the end, but I spent so much time at the National Gallery of Art, which is, you know, and this is sort of notable, which is a free institution. I was particularly spent a lot of time in the east building, which is this really striking modern structure by Impey. It’s such a beautiful place. The collection, so incredible. I was in D.C. two years ago and I had the chance to revisit that building for the first time in years. And it was I mean, it was like Proost or something like that. The memories like the sense memory of the cafeteria or the vantage where you’re standing in the in the lobby and looking down and up simultaneously. I just I love that museum. I really love the collection there. And the experience of being in there was just as rewarding at 41 as it had been at 19, which was kind of lovely to see.

S1: That’s awesome. She also gave a really great reminder that museums need to understand and consider the needs of the people who don’t currently visit them or even really necessarily know about them as much or maybe even more than the people who go there all the time or know what the place is. And, you know, I think that’s important in all kinds of situations. Podcast networks, book publishers, theaters. And as she said, just being clear about what you can expect inside is crucial. Obviously, museums want visitors, but I think especially really elite institutions, we have to acknowledge that they kind of depend on seeming elite and also on raising money from the super rich.

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S4: There are so many tiny ways in which if you just adjust your eyes a little bit, you can understand how a museum that feels welcoming to people like you and me might feel unwelcoming to people unlike us. Right. The presence of security guards, the idea of having to go through a metal detector, the idea of having to pay, you know, pay what you wish, which is a particular strategy that a lot of institutions where, you know, you can understand that museum goers might feel like, well, that means I can’t just pay a dollar, I should pay twenty dollars, but I don’t have 20 dollars or I can’t really exactly afford twenty dollars or I don’t understand what they’re asking me, so I’ll choose not to go. Or you know, Kimberly said this thing that was so striking to me about her own youth, which is that nobody really told her as a kid that art could be a thing that she pursued professionally and that maybe that’s just something that people don’t say to black kids. And I you know, I can’t really argue that point because I think she’s probably not wrong. And that’s disappointing to hear. I will say, just to plug my beloved local Brooklyn Museum again, I think they’ve done a good job of dealing with some of this. They have these big parties on the first Saturdays of the month and there’s no admission. There’s music, there are talks and films and other programming. It’s really understood to be for families. And it gets really crowded. And people know that it’s fun. And crowds show up in force because they’ve seen it on Instagram and they’ve seen people having a good time. You know, I don’t know what that’s going to look like in a post coronavirus world, but generally, I do wish our institutions cared more about especially about getting young kids hooked on art because they’re the patrons of the future. They’re the donors of the future, and they need to learn that art is for them early in their lives.

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S1: Yeah, yeah. I also loved her message that there’s no one right reason to go to a gallery or a museum, like going into a Smithsonian building to get out of the rain or to get out of the sweltering heat is just as good a reason as wanting to see a particular exhibit. Tell the truth, Ramon, do you agree?

S4: I do agree. You know, I have walked a fussy infant around the museum in the dead of winter. You know, I’ve gone to museums and spent five minutes looking at art and an hour in the cafe. I’ve gone to museums to buy something in the gift shop. My younger son took a class in a museum last winter. And so while he was in class for 90 minutes, I just sat on a bench and read and understanding the physical space as not sacred. Let’s you have actually a more intimate relationship with art. You go to the museum to be moved or to, you know, to be entertained. But sometimes you just go because you want a cappuccino and that’s OK. Yeah, totally legit. So Jun know that New York’s Fais reopenings are sort of reaching a different level. What institution are you excited to go back to.

S1: You know, I live very close to the Brooklyn Museum, but this is I know having just heard your last answer, I feel empowered to say that I my favorite galleries, my favorite museums are portrait galleries. And I think there’s something sort of slightly naff about that, because when you go to a portrait gallery, there’s like a little bit of it’s almost like a trivia contest, let you get to see the art and you get to enjoy that. But there’s like a little bit of history that’s a little bit of like, can I identify that person a little bit? Kind of a puzzle about it. And I just love them. So given that we’ve been starved for art for the last few months, if I could kind of wave a magic wand and transport myself into a particular place, it would be the National Portrait Gallery in D.C. And I have gone there a couple of times recently and I have just loved seeing those lines in front of the Obamas portraits like that is the dream. Shouldn’t every gallery, every museum would love to see lines like that just to stare at something that’s so fantastic? I would love to see that every single time I go there.

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S4: That seems like a really apt response for the quarantine period, too, because we are starved for art, but we’re also starved for faces and people. And so interacting with portraits is. Kind of a way of interacting with people, but they’re not annoying because they don’t talk to you and bother you, Aimen.

S3: All right, listeners, we hope you’ve enjoyed the show. If you have, please consider signing up for Slate plus Slate. Plus members get benefits like zero ads in any Slate podcast, bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Imprudence. And you’ll be supporting the work we do here on working. It’s only 35 dollars for the first year. And you can get a free two week trial right now at Slate Slash Working. Plus, we’ll be back next week for a conversation between Isaac Butler and the costume designer Brenda Abundant. Until then, get back to work.

S4: Hey, Slate plus members, we have a little something extra just for you. I got the chance to ask Kimberly about black contemporary art, which was her first foray into social media and the beginnings of her career in the art world. And then later I asked her about which artist is a lodestar for her right now in this confusing contemporary moment.

S5: Can you talk about why you started that blog, what its intention was, how you think about it now with the distance? I mean, you’re still a very young person, but like with the distance of a few years, how do you look back in that experiment?

S6: Yeah, I mean, it’s been almost 10 years, which is wild.

S9: You’re making me feel even older than I am now. Know, I was I was really young when I started in.

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S6: In retrospect, what really drove me to starting a blog was that I just really wanted to learn more. It was a really selfish endeavor in the beginning. I say this often and friends are like, that’s not true, but it is true. I made it for myself. And I think with some distance I can say I specifically made it because so much had been poured into me from other people. And it was the only natural response was to continue to present things for other people. You know, like my and I write about this in the book, but so much of my life, I think, especially as a kid who comes from a lower income family and a very, you know, like you name an intersection of marginalization. And I, I kind of have it there’s so many ways that I was dependent on the state, dependent on donor is dependent on all these different systems. And I think because of that generosity, no matter where it came from, it birthed something in me to understand that when you have something good, you share it. And so the work of building it was cathartic in a lot of work and a work I hope no one ever has to do. Like I spent so many hours researching artists, researching works, posting, I dedicated so much energy and time and love into that project. And so I guess that was it was just like I got so well-fed and nourished, that recording in some platform that felt good to my millennial brain was the next logical step.

S5: You built a pretty passionate audience, you know, in the blog was very well loved, and you know what’s interesting?

S10: Sorry. I mean, I want to mention this, too, because it’s not that I built a passionate audience like I would like to think I have the power to do that. But in actuality, from a lot of the feedback that I got from people, there was so many people who just in general already had the passion but didn’t have the resource to understand and learn. Like there’s so many people who are really curious about art, but because of the way that art is taught, the way that art is displayed, the way that our institutions around our function, people don’t feel like they can access them. And in many ways, the blog kind of met a community of people who were already really enthusiastic and people were able to do with it what they needed. It was just really felt like it wasn’t like I reinvented the wheel. There were so many art blogs before I mine. It was just like the timing. And I think the platform really worked well for a group of people who are kind of maybe needing something like it.

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S5: You’re probably asked this question all the time, and I know it’s not possible to name a favorite. It’s like a pointless question to ask anybody about any art. But I wonder if you can talk about the artist. Who is on your mind right now, like who you were thinking about, whose work feels resonant? I mean, you mentioned before that like often in moments of crisis, people look to Morrison or Baldwin because they were so they were their genius for being able to articulate abstraction. Right. And so when you when you’re overwhelmed by feeling you can turn to James Baldwin because he’s already set it for you decades ago, what is the work of art that is not necessarily doing that for you? It could just be making you happier, like Mick is sticking in your mind the way that, like a good work can stick in your skin like a splinter. What is that work right now?

S8: I always kind of dabble around. I mean, I guess if I had to say an artist that I think feels really relevant to me right now is probably Faith Ringgold, because she has, for so much of her career, been really great, similar to some of the writers that I mentioned before, but a really powerful force in depicting some really terrible things about this country in a way that I think appeals to so many. I have, like one of her posters in this room, and I’m like, yeah, I guess faith, yeah. So I guess I would say Faith Ringgold, that’s a great answer.

S4: Thank you again, Slate plus members, for your support, we all really appreciate it.