Robin Holder: Public Artist

Michele Cohen, Ph.D.


1 Holder to Cohen, electronic letter dated 15 July 2009. Holder also observed that the art world values individual work over collaborative work.

2 The American Renaissance, roughly 1876-1917, was a period in American art and architecture characterized by lavishly decorated private mansions and civic buildings that recalled the splendors of Renaissance Europe and classical antiquity.

3 For a discussion of women muralists of this period, see Bailey Van Hook, Angels of Art: Women and Art in American Society, 1876–1914 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, c1996).

4 Charles Alston, interview by Harlan Phillips, September 28, 1965, Archives of American Art, Digital Collections, accessed 20 July 2009.

5 Charles A. Beard, ed., A Century of Progress (New York & London: Harper & Brothers, 1933), 13.

6 For the best study of women artists and the Federal Art Project, see Kimn Carlton-Smith, "A New Deal for Women: Women Artists and the Federal Art Project, 1935-1939." (Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - New Brunswick, 1990).

7 Ibid., 76.

8 Ibid., 59.

9 For information on the murals commissioned for Harlem Hospital, see Diana L. Linden and Larry A. Greene, "Charles Alston's Harlem Hospital Murals: Cultural Politics in Depression Era Harlem." Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies 26 (2002): 391–421.

10 Carlton-Smith, "A New Deal for Women," 188. See also Ruth Ann Stewart, New York/Chicago: WPA and the Black Artist (New York: Studio Museum of Harlem, 1978).

11 "WPA Gives Artist Big Opportunity," press release, RF 69, box 77, 6, National Archives, Washington, D.C. Quoted in Marlene Park and Gerald E. Markowitz, New Deal for Art: The Government Art Projects of the 1930s with Examples from New York City & State (Hamilton, NY: Gallery Association of New York State, 1977), 44-45.

12 Robin Holder, posted on the City of New York Percent for Art website, accessed 20 July 2009.

13 Holder, interview by Cohen, 13 July 2009.

14 Ibid.

15 Also, in the early 1970s, Romare Bearden and other artists addressed the tensions between the Latino and African American communities in New York City neighborhoods, creating images that promoted unity over discord. For a complete account of art commissioned for Boys and Girls High School, see the author's "Boys and Girls High School: Art and Politics in the Civil Rights Era," Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies 30 (2005): 715-49.

16 Amir Bey, "An Interview with Robin Holder: Printmaker, Educator, Arts Administrator," The New Times Holler (February 24, 2009), accessed 20 July 2009.

17 As this project pre-dated the creation of the City's Percent for Art Program in 1982, public art was still in the hands of the architect.

18 Holder, interview by Cohen, 13 July 2009.

19 For a discussion of these groups, see Amalia K. Amaki, "The All Black Exhibition in America, 1963-1976: Its History, Perception, And The Critical Response." Ph.D. diss., Emory University, 1994, 3. Holder, in fact, was a member of Where We At in the late 1970s.

20 Bearden and Henderson credit the birth of the movement to Elizabeth Catlett. See Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson, A History of African-American Artists from 1792 to the Present, 424-425.

21 See Elsa Honig Fine, The Afro-American Artist: A Search for Identity (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1973). Fine's book includes the most comprehensive bibliography listing articles from the early 1970s; Samella Lewis and Ruth G. Wassy, Black Artists on Art (Los Angeles: Contemporary Crafts Publishers, 1969); "Black Artists in America: A Symposium," Metropolitan Museum Bulletin, XXVII (January 1969): 245-61; and Barbara Rose, "Black Art in America," 58 Art in America (September-October 1970): 54-67. The discussion about what is black art has evolved from this point and has become increasingly complex, linking the expression of black identity to Postmodernism. See also Ann Gibson's essay, "The African-American Aesthetic and Postmodernism," in David C. Driskell, ed. African-American Visual Aesthetics: A Postmodernist View (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995) and Dorit Yaron, "What's Black and White and Red All Over? The Work of the African-American Jewish Female Artist Robin Holder," Master of Arts Thesis, Graduate School, University of Maryland, College Park, 2000, Chapter 5.

22 Lowery Sims makes a very perceptive comment about the dilemma of the artist's relationship to his or her audience. Sims writes, "In the context of the political and social turmoil of these years, the issue now was not merely the relationship of African-American artists to their African heritage but also included a notion of blackness gauged on a scale referencing relevance and accessibility to the African-American community." See Lowery Sims, "The African-American Artist and Abstraction," in Norman Lewis Black Paintings, 46.

23 Billops, interview by Cohen, December 2001.

24 Charles Alston to Donald J. Gormley, October 1, 1972. Exhibition File 400 Collateral, Public Design Commission of the City of New York.

25 Robin Holder press release, 1999, cited in "What's Black and White and Red All Over?", p. 5.

26 John Ahearn's failed commission for a plaza fronting a south Bronx police station exemplifies how difficult it is to avoid public art stereotypes. See Jane Kramer with introduction by Catharine R. Stimpson, Whose Art Is It? (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1994).