James A. Porter Distinguished Lecture
Huey Copeland, PhD, BFC Presidential Associate Professor, History of Art, University of Pennsylvania
Huey Copeland’s interdisciplinary work explores African/Diasporic, American, and European art from the late eighteenth century to the present with an emphasis on articulations of blackness in the Western visual field. In particular, his research homes in on the vexed intersections of race and gender, subject and object, the aesthetic and its others from a black feminist perspective that aims to put pressure on the blind spots and conventions of modernist art history.
An editor of OCTOBER and a contributing editor of Artforum, Copeland has published in numerous periodicals as well as in international exhibition catalogues and essay collections such as the groundbreaking anthology Histórias Afro-Atlânticas produced by the Museu de Arte de Saõ Paulo. Notable among his publications is Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America, a book funded by a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program Grant and published in 2013 by the University of Chicago Press, that has since been reviewed in over a dozen national and international forums, including Culture Type, Art Journal, Small Axe, and Black Canadian Studies. Focused on the work of Renée Green, Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson and Fred Wilson, the project considered how slavery shaped American art in the last decades of the 20th century in arguing for a radical reorientation of the humanities toward the matter of blackness.
Copeland is now at work on two volumes that further interrogate the imbrication of the racial and the aesthetic: The Black Modernisms Seminars Papers, an anthology co-edited with Steven Nelson and commissioned by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts; and In the Shadow of the Negress: A Brief History of Modern Artistic Practice in the Transatlantic World, a monograph exploring the constitutive role played by fictions of black womanhood in Western art. He is also refining a related essay collection with Chicago—currently entitled ‘Touched by the Mother’: On Black Men in American Art from Watts to the Whitney—that brings together many of his new and previously published writings and that has already been recognized with the 2017 Absolut Art Writing Award, intended to support “transformative projects by the world’s most creative talent.”
Copeland's research interests are reflected by his course offerings, which have ranged from an introductory survey focused on Euro-American modernisms and their global entanglements to the graduate seminar “ Appropriation (North and South),” conceptualized in collaboration with leading South African critic Athi Mongezeleli Joja. In addition, Copeland has served as primary advisor for dissertations exploring: the tension between primitivism and cosmopolitanism in twentieth-century African American painting; the third world guerilla as a model for American performance artists in the long 1970s; “post-black” as a critical fulcrum for reframing African diasporic temporalities and geographies; early 21st-century Chinese art’s literal and figurative haunting by socialist realist aesthetics; the intersection of the racial and the ecological in nineteenth-century Francophone Caribbean visual culture; and the politics of death in black South African visual and performing arts during and after apartheid. Alongside his work as a teacher, critic, editor, scholar, and administrator, he has co-curated exhibitions such as Interstellar Low Ways (with Anthony Elms), and co-organized international conferences like “Afro-Pessimist Aesthetics” (with Sampada Aranke).
An alumnus of the Whitney Independent Study Program, Copeland received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 2006; prior to arriving at Penn, he taught at Northwestern University for 15 years. His work has received support from the American Council of Learned Societies, l’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center for American Modernism, the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, and the Terra Foundation for American Art where he now serves on the Board of Directors. In 2019, his contributions to the field were recognized by the High Museum of Art with the David C. Driskell Prize in African American Art and Art History. Currently, he is Andrew W. Mellon Professor at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.