Financial Times, October 10, 2014
THE CONTENTIOUS CASE OF THE "YOUNG BLACK ARTIST" DONELLE WOOLFORD
by Harriet Fitch Little
[Note: This is an excerpt from a longer article]
....But for an artist intent on shaking things up, Scanlan has made strange choices. Although he insists he never lied about Woolford’s fictional status, for a long time most people who encountered the artist did so with no knowledge of the deception – Ramsay recalls visitors to the studio being amazed at her inept handling of the woodcutting machine. Scanlan expresses regret at Woolford’s outing, which was not intentional but the product of coming up against a “real hostility to deception and role-play” in the visual arts. And although both Ramsay and Kidwell see Woolford as broadening engagement with issues of art-world elitism, Scanlan does not, insisting that: “This project has no interest whatsoever in what we might call the general public.” He believes that addressing a wider audience would require simplification and push the fiction into “minstrelsy, black face, or some other insulting gesture”. Scanlan doesn’t offer a definitive answer to the question of whom exactly he does intend Woolford to speak to. As in most things, he embraces the absence of certainty, believing it to be essential for a project to evolve.
For his critics, this is a problem. Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett, the art historians behind the experimental curatorial project Triple Candie, suggest that the ruckus surrounding Woolford stems from the fact that Scanlan doesn’t offer a solid defence of why he has chosen to work with such potential provocation. Bancroft and Nesbett have experience of the terrain – in 2006 the duo, who are both white, curated a retrospective of Lester Hayes – a fictional African-American artist. “We were straight-forward about the fictionalisation of it and our intent right from the get go,” they say. “The way [Scanlan] has approached it has varied over time and that’s something of an issue.” . . .