Darby English

Darby English is Carl Darling Buck Professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago.

  • How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness

    How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness

    Darby English

    Going beyond the 'blackness' of black art to examine the integrative and interdisciplinary practices of Kara Walker, Fred Wilson, Isaac Julien, Glenn Ligon, and William Pope.L—five contemporary black artists in whose work race plays anything but a defining role.

    Work by black artists today is almost uniformly understood in terms of its "blackness," with audiences often expecting or requiring it to "represent" the race. In How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness, Darby English shows how severely such expectations limit the scope of our knowledge about this work and how different it looks when approached on its own terms. Refusing to grant racial blackness—his metaphorical "total darkness"—primacy over his subjects' other concerns and contexts, he brings to light problems and possibilities that arise when questions of artistic priority and freedom come into contact, or even conflict, with those of cultural obligation. English examines the integrative and interdisciplinary strategies of five contemporary artists—Kara Walker, Fred Wilson, Isaac Julien, Glenn Ligon, and William Pope.L—stressing the ways in which this work at once reflects and alters our view of its informing context: the advent of postmodernity in late twentieth-century American art and culture.

    The necessity for "black art" comes both from antiblack racism and resistances to it, from both segregation and efforts to imagine an autonomous domain of black culture. Yet to judge by the work of many contemporary practitioners, English writes, black art is increasingly less able—and black artists less willing—to maintain its standing as a realm apart. Through close examinations of Walker's controversial silhouettes' insubordinate reply to pictorial tradition, Wilson's and Julien's distinct approaches to institutional critique, Ligon's text paintings' struggle with modernisms, and Pope.L's vexing performance interventions, English grounds his contention that to understand this work is to displace race from its central location in our interpretation and to grant right of way to the work's historical, cultural, and aesthetic specificity.

    • Hardcover $35.95
    • Paperback $44.95
  • Kara Walker

    Kara Walker

    Narratives of a Negress

    Ian Berry, Darby English, Vivian Patterson, and Mark Reinhardt

    A comprehensive, illustrated overview of the work of contemporary artist Kara Walker.

    Kara Walker (b. 1969) has emerged as one of her generation's most important artists. Best known for her provocative black paper cutout silhouettes, she confronts stereotypes, sex, violence, and power relationships through Civil War-era parodies, narratives, and a mastery of craft and installation.This book, which accompanies an exhibition organized by the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College and the Williams College Museum of Art, presents a comprehensive overview of Walker's work, beginning with her first cut-paper wall installation, Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart (1994). Other highlights include the 1996 series of twenty-four watercolor drawings, Brown Follies, which is reproduced in full as an artist's book within the book, and installation views of many of Walker's exhibitions. Recent drawings and projections are also featured. Throughout the book are a selection of the Walker's writings reproduced as they were created typed on index cards. These writings reveal a rarely seen side of the artist, whose words are as provocative as her installations and drawings. The essays discuss Walker's place in art history, formal and narrative readings of her work, her relation to culture at large, and issues of race, sexuality, and representation addressed in her work. Copublished with the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College and Williams College Museum of Art.

    • Hardcover $45.00