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On Race, Representation, and White Lies: A Tribute to Maurice Berger

October 6, 2020 at 4:00 pm10:00 pm

Maurice Berger

Maurice Berger, chief curator and research professor at UMBC’s Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture (CADVC), died Sunday, March 22, in Craryville, New York from complications of COVID-19. A path-breaking art historian and curator, Berger was a fierce advocate for social justice and an exceptionally caring human being. Through his exhibitions and writings, he compelled us to look honestly at issues of race, inequity, and their representations in visual culture.

On Tuesday, October 6, the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School will present On Race, Representation, and White Lies: A Tribute to Maurice Berger. A public intellectual, activist, and acclaimed scholar, Maurice Berger was the inaugural Vera List Center Fellow appointed in 1993. His seminal work as a writer, curator, and New York Times columnist has shaped the critical discourse on the intersection of race and visual culture in this country today. Brilliant, far-ranging, and astute, Berger’s practice encompassed pedagogy, journalism, and exhibitions. His books include White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness, a finalist for the Horace Mann Bond Book Award of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research at Harvard; his exhibitions were presented at The Smithsonian Institution, the International Center for Photography, UMBC’s Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, The Jewish Museum, and other cultural institutions. For All The World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights, which opened in Washington, D.C. in 2015, will continue to circulate through the National Endowment for the Humanities until 2025.

Visit here to read the March 25 UMBC announcement of Berger’s passing.

Performative Reading
Protocols for the Berger Project: A Tribute to Maurice Berger, Part I
4 – 5 p.m.

Protocols for the Berger Project was composed in 2018 to celebrate twenty-five years of Vera List Center Fellowships. For the book published on that occasion, VLC Fellows Maurice Berger and Robert Sember engaged in a revelatory exchange on each other’s fellowship projects, separated by two decades but united in theme and intent. In response to Berger’s essay “Democracy in Vogue,” Sember designed Protocols for the Berger Object or What is the Sound of White Lies?, a collective inquiry into the lie of white supremacy guided by Berger’s seminal book, White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness.

Protocols for the Berger Object employs techniques of intentional collective listening developed by the sound art collective Ultra-red to enable us to listen to Maurice listening. On October 6, the protocols are read by Molly Rose Kaufman (University of Orange), Michael A. Roberson (Ultra-red), and Robert Sember, Part-time Assistant Professor, Interdisciplinary Arts, Eugene Lang College.

On Race, Representation, and White Lies: A Tribute to Maurice Berger, Part II
6 – 7:30 p.m.

White Lies: Race and the Myth of Whiteness is the prescient title of Maurice Berger’s first major book, published in 1999. This discussion is an opportunity to address the urgent challenges of the current moment through three key aspects of Berger’s career — his foundational scholarly work; the orbit of allies, peers, and artists gathered around him, and to whom he was mentor and colleague; and his position as both an astute scholar and a passionate activist. An excerpt of Marvin Heiferman’s Instagram account @whywelook concludes the exchange.

Courtney R. Baker, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of California, Riverside
Lonnie G. Bunch III, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution
David Gonzalez, journalist and co-editor, The New York Times Lens blog
Nona Faustine, photographer and visual artist
Sarah Lewis, Associate Professor, Department of History of Art and Architecture, Department of African and African American Studies, Harvard University

Kinshasha Holman Conwill, Deputy Director, National Museum of African American History & Culture

Videos and Piano Recital
Palais de Mari: A Tribute to Maurice Berger, Part III
9 – 10 p.m.

Filming at home in the days after Maurice Berger’s death, Sarah Rothenberg (artistic director of DACAMERA, Houston, Texas, and VLC Fellow 1995) dedicated her March 20 performance of Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari to Berger. This personal moment and the piece relate to the strange, suspended notion of time during the COVID-19 lockdown as well as to timelessness evoked in the title of Feldman’s 1986 composition that refers to the ancient Babylonian palace of Mari. Acting as a coda to the tribute, the piano recital is preceded by video recollections by some of the colleagues in Berger’s expanded sphere of influence.

This tribute is organized by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School, with the support of Marvin Heiferman. The Vera List Center Forum 2020 launches the center’s 2020-2022 focus theme, As for Protocols. It is curated by Carin Kuoni and Eriola Pira, and organized with the support of Adrienne Umeh, Heran Abate, Joshua van Biema, and Maryna Arabei.

The Vera List Center Forum 2020 is made possible by major support from Jane Lombard and the Kettering Fund, as well as the Boris Lurie Art Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and The New School as well as members of the Vera List Center’s board and other individuals.

Image Credit: Maurice Berger at the opening of Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television at the Jewish Museum, 2015. Photo Steve Miller.



October 6, 2020
4:00 pm – 10:00 pm
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