Maurice Berger, September 2011 (photo: Donna DeSalvo)
Critical Race Theory
|Institutions||University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Jewish Museum, New York
New York Times
|Alma mater||Hunter College
Graduate Center of the City University of New York
|Doctoral advisor||Yve-Alain Bois
|Other academic advisors||Rosalind Krauss|
|Influences||W.E.B. Du Bois
|Notable awards||*Best Exhibition in University Museum, 2010, Best Exhibition in US, 2008, Association of Art Museum Curators;
*Best Thematic Exhibition in New York, 2008, International Association of Art Critics;
*Nominee, Emmy Award, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, New York Chapter
*Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2010, Art and Architecture, American Library Association
*Arts Writers Grant, 2014 Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation;
Maurice Berger is a cultural historian, art critic, and curator. He is Research Professor and Chief Curator at the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Berger's essay series, Race Stories, "a continuing exploration of the relationship of race to photographic portrayals of race," appears monthly on the Lens Blog of the New York Times.
A student of the pioneering theoretical art historian, Rosalind E. Krauss, Berger completed a B.A. at Hunter College and Ph.D. in art history and critical theory at the City University of New York. He then turned his attention to race. One of the few white kids in his low-income housing project on Manhattan's Lower East Side, Berger grew up hyper-sensitized to race. Due to his experiences, he looked beyond the world of "critical theory" to address the relevance of visual culture, and especially images of race, to everyday life.
Berger engages the issues of racism, whiteness, and contemporary race relations and their connection to visual culture in the United States. He is one of the first art historians to meld the methodologies and practices of cultural and art history with those of race studies and critical race theory, work begun by Berger in the mid-1980s as an assistant professor of art and gallery director at Hunter College His earliest effort in this area—co-organized with the anthropologist Johnnetta B. Cole at Hunter College in 1987—was an interdisciplinary project (that included a book, art exhibition, and film program) entitled "Race and Representation." His widely anthologized study on institutional racism--"Are Art Museums Racist?"—appeared in Art in America three years later, and helped spur a national debate on the exclusionary practices of American art museums. In the early-1990s, Berger extended his work on visual culture and race to include sustained study of the work of African-American artists, performers, filmmakers, producers, and cultural figures, culminating both in solo exhibitions ("Adrian Piper: A Retrospective" and "Fred Wilson Objects and Installations"), multimedia projects (including compilation videos and elaborate context stations for art exhibitions), and essays (on subjects as diverse as black artists and the limitations of mainstream art criticism, the racial implications of art historical and curatorial efforts to evaluate "outsider" art, the stereotypical representation of Jewish masculinity on American television, and the Jewish identity of the African-American entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr.).
Berger has also curated a number of race-related concept-based exhibitions, including For All The World To See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights—a joint venture of the National Museum of African American History and Culture of the Smithsonian Institution and the Center for Art, Design & Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. This exhibition was the first to comprehensively examine the role played by visual images in shaping, influencing, and transforming the modern struggle for racial equality and justice in the United States. It opened at International Center of Photography in New York in May 2010 and traveled to the DuSable Museum of African American History (Chicago), Smithsonian National Museum of American History (DC), National Civil Rights Museum (Memphis), Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture (Baltimore), Addison Gallery of American Art (Andover, MA) and other venues. For All the World to See was selected by the National Endowment for the Humanities as the twelfth NEH on the Road exhibition, an initiative that adapted the exhibition in a smaller, lower security version that will travel to up to 50 more venues, mostly smaller and mid-size institutions across the country over a ten-year period from 2012 to 2023.
Berger is the author of eleven books on the subject of American art, culture, and the politics of race. His memoir, White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999) was one of the earliest books to introduce the idea of "whiteness" as a racial concept to a more general audience. The book was a finalist for the Horace Mann Bond Book Award of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research, Harvard University and received an honorable mention from the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award of Boston University School of Social Work. Other books include: Masterworks of the Jewish Museum (Yale, 2004] The Crisis of Criticism (The New Press, 1998); Constructing Masculinity (Routledge, 1995); Modern Art and Society (HarperCollins, 1994); How Art Becomes History (HarperCollins, 1992); Labyrinths: Robert Morris, Minimalism, and the 1960s (Harper & Row, 1989). Berger’s writing on art, film, television, theater, law, and the politics of race have appeared in many journals and newspapers, including Artforum, Art in America, New York Times Pen America, Village Voice, October, Wired, and Los Angeles Times. He has also contributed essays to numerous exhibition catalogs and anthologies, most recently, “Man in the Mirror: The Harlem Document, Race and the Photo League,” in Mason Klein, The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League and “One Small Step,” in Claudia Nahson, The Art of Ezra Jack Keats, both published by the Jewish Museum and Yale University Press.
Berger's exhibitions on race and culture include retrospectives of the artists Adrian Piper (1999) and Fred Wilson (2001) both traveling extensively in the United States and Canada. In 2003, he organized White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art, which featured the work of Cindy Sherman, Nayland Blake, William Kentridge, Gary Simmons, Paul McCarthy, Nikki S. Lee, Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, and Mike Kelley, among others. In addition to his work on race, Berger has advocated for more aggressive educational outreach and broader cultural and social context for high art in museums, creating complex, multi-media "context stations" for numerous exhibitions, including Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976, Jewish Museum (2008) and Black Male: Representations of Masculinity, 1968-1994 (1994) and The American Century: Art & Culture, 1950-2000, (1999), both at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Additionally, he was the curator of Hands and Minds: The Art and Writing of Young People in 20th-Century America, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1998), an exhibition, and a catalog with a preface by First Lady Hillary Clinton, on the importance of arts education that traveled across the United States.
Since the mid-1990s, Berger has produced cinematic “culture stories,” syncopated compilations of historic clips from American film and television that explore issues of identity and self-representation. His film Threshold was featured in the 2012 Whitney Biennial. The film was inspired by his conversations with Alicia Hall Moran and Jason Moran about their ideas for Bleed, their residency for the biennial. Threshold is a continuum of images from popular culture produced during the period of or about the historic civil rights movement. It riffs on the crossing of thresholds—walking through doors, boarding trains and buses, entering cars, gliding across stages, stepping up to podiums, and even the imagined passage from Earth to heaven—that have defined the voice, place, and aspirations of a people. The story it tells is one of self-possession and triumph: the epic passage across thresholds that, in the context of this film, serve as metaphors of the barriers, glass ceilings, and restrictions then imposed on African Americans. Critic Ben Ratliff, writing in the New York Times, observed that "Threshold strung together clips from movies and television shows of African-Americans beginning various journeys, passages or challenges: Diana Ross and Michael Jackson on the yellow brick road in “The Wiz”; dancers on “Soul Train”; Denzel Washington as Malcolm X stepping up to a podium. The mood of that film carried through the whole week: moving forward, crossing lines, evolving."
Berger's media project, Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television, organized for the Jewish Museum, New York, and the Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is the first exhibition to explore how avant-garde art influenced and shaped the look and content of network television in its formative years, from the late-1940s to the mid-1970s. During this period, the pioneers of American television—many of them young, Jewish, and aesthetically adventurous—had adopted modernism as a source of inspiration. Revolution of the Eye looks at how the dynamic new medium, in its risk-taking and aesthetic experimentation, paralleled and embraced cutting-edge art and design. It examines television’s promotion of avant-garde ideals and aesthetics; its facility as a promotional platform for modern artists, designers, and critics; its role as a committed patron of the work of modern artists and designers; and as a medium whose relevance in contemporary culture was validated by the Museum of Modern Art’s historic Television Project (1952-55). In addition to the Jewish Museum and CADVC, the exhibition will travel to the NSU Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale; The Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA; Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago; and other national venues.
Awards and Honors
Berger is the recipient of numerous honors, including multiple grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Peter Norton Family Foundation, Trellis Fund, and J. Patrick Lannon Foundation. For his work on the “For All the World to See” segment of WNET Sunday Arts, Berger received an Emmy Award nomination from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, New York chapter. His book White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999) was named as a finalist for the 2000 Horace Mann Bond Book Award of Harvard University and received an honorable mention from the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award from Boston University School of Social Work. His companion book for For All the World to See (Yale, 2010) was named Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2010, Art and Architecture from the American Library Association and was a finalist for the Benjamin L. Hooks National book Award from the University of Memphis (2011), which recognizes a publication that best advances an understanding of the American civil rights movement and its legacy.
Berger's curatorial honors include “Exhibition of the Year 2008” (Action/Abstraction) and “Best Exhibition in a University Museum 2010” (For All the World to See) from the Association of Art Museum Curators, and “Best Thematic Exhibition in New York, 2008” (Action/Abstraction) from the International Association of Art Critics, American Section. He has also received the Alumni Achievement Award from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (1998) and the Award for Excellence and Achievement in German Studies from the German Counsel General, New York (1977).
For his Race Stories series for the Lens Blog of the New York Times, Berger is the recipient of the 2014 Arts Writers Grant from Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation.
- Lens Blog: Race Stories by Maurice Berger, New York Times, July 2012-present
- Facing Down His Color as a Path to Privilege, Felicia Lee, New York Times, 5 May 1999, p. E1
- "Art Art Museums Racist?, Maurice Berger, excerpt from Art in America, September 1990
- For All the World To See: Website
- Images That Steered a Drive for Freedom Holland Cotter, New York Times, 21 May 2010, p. E1
- For All the World To See Explores the Impact of Visual Culture of the 1960s, Jacqueline Trescott, Washington Post, 9 June 2011
- The Power of Imagery in Advancing Civil Rights, Arcynta Ali Childs, Smithsonian Magazine, October 2011
- NEH on the Road: For All the World To See
- REVISIONS: On Defining Race, When Only Thinking Makes It So, Margo Jefferson, New York Times, 22 March 1999
- Books: White Lies, David Roediger, Village Voice, 23 February 1999, p. 125
- Remembering in Black and White, Patricia J. Williams, The Nation, 28 February 2000, p. 9
- Review: Masterworks of the Jewish Museum, David Cohen, Art Critical, 26 August 2004
- Feature on The Crisis of Criticism, Judith H. Dobrzynski, New York Times, 20 June 1998
- Lens Blog: Race Stories by Maurice Berger, New York Times, July 2012-present
- Race in Cyberspace?, Maurice Berger, Wired, 1 December 1995,
- Look in the Mirror for Racial Attitudes, Maurice Berger, Los Angeles Times, 26 February 1999, p. 7
- A Canvas of Concerns: Race, Racism and Class, Holland Cotter, New York Times, 24 December 1999
- Pumping Air Into the Museum, So It's as Big as the World OutsideHolland Cotter, New York Times, 30 April 2004
- Playing on Black and White: Racial Messages Through a Camera Lens,Margo Jefferson, New York Times, 10 January 2005
- Rivalry Played Out on Canvas and Page, Roberta Smith, New York Times, 2 May 2008
- Bleed: Alicia Hall Moran and Jason Moran on Whitney Museum Website,
- Art, Ancestry, Africa: Letting It All Bleed, Ben Ratliff, New York Times, 14 May 2012
- Review: ‘Revolution of the Eye’ Examines Art’s Influence on Early TVMike Hale, New York Times, 30 April 2015, p. C1
- New Exhibit Explores Relationship Between Modern Art & Early Television, Lisa Petrillo and Maurice Berger, Broadcast Curator Tour: Revolution of the Eye, 23 October 2015, CBS4-Miami
- NY Emmy Award Page/Click on Nominees for PDF, Emmy Awards, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, New York Chapter, 2011
- Arts Writers Grantee: Maurice Berger, December 2014
- Maurice Berger on Visual Culture and Civil Rights: NPR Weekend Edition
- Maurice Berger on Visual Culture and Civil Rights: WNET-Sunday Arts/PBS
- Official Website of For All the World to See
- Maurice Berger on Whiteness and Race: MSNBC
- Maurice Berger on Whiteness and Race: NPR
- Maurice Berger on Early-TV and Modern Art: CBS4-Miami
- Maurice Berger on Visual Culture and Civil Rights: NPR-Maryland Morning
- Maurice Berger on Early-TV and Modern Art: NPR-Maryland Morning
- Maurice Berger on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB)