This essay illustrates the racialization of art museums in the past and how this has affected who and what viewers see in art museums today. By taking a look at various exhibitions occurring over the past century, I aim to demonstrate how art museums and institutions have historically excluded Black artists and perpetuated racism through curatorial practices and methods of display. My research surrounds four specific exhibitions, each which I examine to provide a timeline of how race came to be in art museums, how racism is sustained within art museums, and how racism can be counteracted in art museums. I supplement my research with ideas and concepts from Michel Foucault and Paulo Freire to explain why racist exhibitions of the past cannot work and what steps can be taken to ensure accurate representations of Black art, artists, and communities exist in museums. I give examples of methods used by culturally-specific museums to create spaces for discussion and learning that I believe may be efficiently implemented into art institutions today. Materials used for this research include books, articles, reports, and academic journals.
Art museums, as well as the art world as a whole, still face issues relating to lack of diversity and representation. The argument presented here is meant to figure out why past exhibitions did not work to open doors for Black artists and viewers and give an understanding of what inclusivity can look like in museums when done properly and appropriately.