The Museum recently became aware that the imagery in Robert Colescott’s painting that was replicated in the exhibition banner on our building was viewed as racist. The Museum sincerely apologizes to all who were caused harm by the banner. We have listened to, and heard community feedback and have replaced the banner with another work by the artist.
The intent of the banner was to raise public awareness about an important exhibition inside, Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott, with a work of art featured in the exhibition, Colescott’s 1978 painting I Gets a Thrill, Too, When I Sees De Koo. Robert Colescott (1925–2009) was a Black artist who remains one of America’s most compelling and controversial artists. His work challenges taboos around racial stereotyping and addresses racial politics in a blunt and irreverent way, and the banner image duplicates Colescott’s art. However, the impact of the banner outside, in a public space and without context, provoked anger.
The Portland Art Museum strives to be an inclusive institution that facilitates respectful dialogue, debate, and the free exchange of ideas, a Museum for all, inviting everyone to connect with art through their own experiences, voices, and personal journeys. Freedom of speech and expression are bedrock values for this Museum. Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott is the product of a thoughtful curating process and we recognize that this exhibition and other work this institution displays may, at various times, inspire, provoke, illuminate or challenge our community. We offer this exhibition inside the galleries with labels and explanatory text so that visitors can more fully experience Colescott’s work. Promotional images like the banner, however, are experienced in isolation, and therefore need additional consideration.
In holding ourselves accountable to our Equity Statement, we commit to embracing difficult conversations and accepting feedback. “We understand that equity and inclusion work is difficult, and we acknowledge that we will make mistakes as we learn and grow.” This is an opportunity for us to acknowledge an unforeseen impact, and change our process around building banner selection.
The conversations around race and racism that have been sparked reflect the intent of the artist’s work, and we are grateful that the community is engaging in this dialogue and reaching out to us to share feedback. The Museum offers a number of ways for interested individuals to learn more and take part in community discussions around art. One of those programs is the “In Dialogue” series. In Dialogue is an occasional series of interdisciplinary, discussion-based sessions that explore art on view at the Museum in relation to works in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. The upcoming series takes inspiration from Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott to consider timely and key exhibition themes that explore the dynamics between race and gender, as well as the function of satire within the work.
Upcoming In Dialogue Events
CANCELED (Look for a rescheduled date)
March 20, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
In Dialogue: Race and Gender in the work of Robert Colescott
Join multidisciplinary artist and dialogue facilitator, Sharyll Burroughs for a thought-provoking discussion around race and gender in Colescott’s work. Sharyll Burroughs is a multidisciplinary artist and dialogue facilitator who utilizes art, Buddhism, and the practice of self-inquiry, to question and deconstruct identity beyond racial, cultural, or societal definitions, an unorthodox approach which cultivates dialogues embodying our common humanity.
POSSIBLE CANCELLATION (Please stay tuned)
April 10, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
In Dialogue: Satire in the Work of Robert Colescott
In an evening of improvisational performance and discussion with Broke Gravy, this In Dialogue considers the function of satire both within Colescott’s work and within daily life. Broke Gravy uses improv comedy and storytelling to discover truth between the blurry lines of the daily grind. As three Black men living in America, they utilize their unique voices to spark thoughtful conversations on and off comedy stages. Through an open and honest dialogue, they exchange their experiences with those of their audience—exploring deeper perspectives on comedy, relationships, and humanity.
POSSIBLE CANCELLATION (Please stay tuned)
April 19, 2 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
In Dialogue: A Question of Color
Facilitated by Dr. Ethan Johnson, this In Dialogue will center discussion around the film, A Question of Color, and the ways in which colorism occurs within the Colescott exhibition. Ethan Johnson is an associate professor in and chair of the Black Studies Department in the School of Gender, Race and Nations at Portland State University. He works across multiple fields of study related to the experiences of people of African descent: education, popular culture, race and racism, history and African Diaspora Studies.
The following resources created by the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati are also available. Please note that certain artworks and other elements will differ from the Portland Art Museum presentation of Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott.
We are grateful to those who have reached out to share feedback, and invite anyone to e-mail or call us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-226-2811 anytime.