Tate Modern to stage 'racist' exhibition

London gallery re-enacts controversial 'celebration' of black American stars

Tate Modern is to recreate an exhibition universally condemned as racist by critics when it was in New York. When the artistic duo, Rob Pruitt and Jack Early, opened the show, Red, Black, Green, Red, White and Blue, consisting of shop-bought posters of black pop-stars, sports personalities and activists, they intended it as a celebration of African Americans, as well as a critique.

But the work in the Leo Castelli gallery in 1992 led to an explosive response by critics, virtually ending Early's career, and putting a stop to Pruitt's for the next seven years, as galleries refused to show any of his work. Early now lives in a low-rent hotel and works in catering. The pair had teamed up after they met in their early 20s while studying art at the Corcoran School in Washington, DC.

Tate Modern will re-enact the show in an entire room as part of its major exhibition, Pop Life: Art in a Material World, opening on 1 October, which explores the New York arts scene and its links with the YBAs.

Pruitt and Early intended to address popular conceptions of race in corporate America and the show was overlain with a soundtrack of Pruitt and Early singing their own rap song.

"It was our take on black pop culture in America, a historical survey, images that had risen to the top of American culture that created a rich, popular identity of what the black experience had been through adversity," Pruitt said. "Through this adversity, they had been able to do genius things."

Each poster featured politicians, athletes and entertainers, including the singer, LL Cool J, the actress Whoopie Goldberg, the black activist, Malcolm X, and the Jackson family. Each poster was on a house-shaped panel, and given names such as The Jackson Family House. "We put all of the Jacksons together," Pruitt added. "It was about having your identity taken from you [and having a], slave name tagged in," he said.

Some people voiced concern at an exhibition about black America created by two young white men. The condemnation back then "was pretty unanimous" said Pruitt. "People were calling the show racist. That was particularly shocking to me.

"I read every review carefully. The celebration of the group of people and community was not lost but what people did not like was mixing people together who had nothing in common other than the colour of their skin." Alison Gingeras, co-curator of Tate Modern's exhibition, said the work had since been critically re-examined and she hoped it would be appreciated as the cultural critique that it was intended to be.

"Its dismissal at the time was a bit knee-jerk," she said. "I can understand why the show was met by an inflammatory response but what got lost in the shuffle was that Pruitt-Early didn't invent this imagery.

"If these were racial stereotypes, they were playing on that, and offering a critique. They were forcing us to confront what we sanction every time we buy these posters, records and films that play on racial stereotypes. I think that 17 years later, the public will be able to digest them in a less of a knee-jerk manner."

In spite of the critical reception, every artwork was bought, including some pieces by Denver Museum. The publicity also ensured that the Pruitt-Early name would not be easily forgotten. Pruitt has since regained his reputation in the art world. Two years ago, he contributed artwork at the Frieze Fair in London.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits