The world of museum collections is experiencing shifts that have begun to broaden the values that guide approaches to both collecting and exhibiting. For instance, just last year, the Seattle Art Museum opened a reimagined American Art installation that for the first time in 15 years presents art that is more relevant to the present moment. What this seems to mean is that museums are discovering that the “white gaze” may not be the most important view, especially at a time when institutions of art are grappling with changing world views, representation, authentic community engagement, and future sustainability. All institutions are being forced to examine their legacy of exclusion.
What hangs on the walls of museums has power. The power to shape ideals about what is art, who makes it, who collects it, and ultimately signals the value of art and artists in society. And of course, exhibits that celebrate the creativity from traditionally excluded communities often cover the walls in museums but these exhibitions are often traveling and are not the same as a permanent collection. Decisions about collections are made in rooms behind the walls where the art hangs. Who are these decision makers and what do they represent?
One man at the Portland Museum of Art is on a mission to change what hangs on the walls, and who gets to make the crucial decisions, while also evangelizing the necessity of expanding the world of art collectors. John Goodwin, Director of Community Philanthropy at PAM pushes hard to ensure that 24/7 exposure is given to Black artists. Goodwin was a docent at PAM before taking on the position of director of premium experience for the Portland Trailblazers. An art collector himself, John supported PAM and through his NBA connections brought along new supporters landing him on the museum board. He has had his position at PAM for the past five years and his influence can be seen and felt. In just the past few years PAM has exhibited Color Line: Black Excellence on the World Stage featuring the photographs and data charts from the 1900 World Exposition exhibit created by WEB DuBois, Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal, and Art & Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott. So much Black art in the heart of one of America’s whitest cities, but also the place where Carrie Mae Weems grew up, and where Mickalene Thomas lived.
No doubt that John Goodwin has had a major influence on the expansion of Portland Art Museum’s perception of art appreciation and moves toward greater inclusion. The notion that only that which reflects oneself is of value is challenged by this expanded view, while also broadening the opportunity for more people to see themselves reflected in the halls and on the walls of these institutions whose job it is to preserve and present reflections of the creativity that gives us all the ability to better understand ourselves and the world in which we live.
Now through March 2024, Black Artists of Oregon is on view at PAM. From the 1880s through today, the exhibit captures the Black diasporic experiences that are particular to the Pacific Northwest, featuring 69 artists, over 200 objects, and accompanied by a podcast. Coming to PAM in November is Africa Fashion from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, exploring African creativity, cultures, and histories using fashion as the catalyst.
We’re checking you out John and thanking you for your influence and passion for Black art! Learn more about John Goodwin and follow him on Instagram @johngpdx.
Currently on View at PAM: Black Artists of Oregon