Nicholas Forster co-organized an Till They Listen: Bill Gunn Directs America at Artspace

October 27, 2021

Artists Space, in collaboration with an organizing committee comprised of Bill Gunn collaborators and scholars, presents a comprehensive gallery exhibition and a series of public programs celebrating the life and towering, multi-faceted work of the filmmaker, playwright, novelist, and actor Bill Gunn (1929–1989). As a Black artist working simultaneously in Hollywood and the New York theatre world, Gunn persistently struggled to produce his work as a writer and filmmaker, and these hardships are reflected in both his art and his archive. In a 1973 letter to the New York Times, Gunn states: “It is a terrible thing to be a black artist in this country. If I were white, I would probably be called ‘fresh and different.’ If I were European, Ganja & Hess might be ‘that little film you must see.’ Because I am black, I do not even deserve the pride that one American feels for another when he discovers that a fellow countryman’s film has been selected as the only American film to be shown during Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival… Not one white critic from any of the major newspapers even mentioned it.”

Three decades after his death, Bill Gunn’s work has begun to gain long overdue visibility through film retrospectives, restorations and increased availability of his published writings. Adding to the recent scholarship around Gunn’s work, this exhibition opening will elucidate Gunn’s profound artistic vision through an unprecedented gathering of archival materials from both private collections and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s unparalleled holdings, most exhibited for the first time. This curated selection of ephemera, media, literature, and original artworks offers a complex and intimate portrait of Gunn’s seminal output, with a focus on his many unrealized projects. In conjunction with the exhibition, Artists Space will present a series of public programs, including film screenings, conversations, live musical performances, staged readings, and a publication of newly commissioned and previously uncollected writing.

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