Skip to main content

Huey Copeland

Associate Professor; Arthur Andersen Teaching and Research Professor (On leave Fall 2020-2022)

Ph.D., 2006, University of California, Berkeley
Curriculum Vitae

Huey Copeland is currently Andrew W. Mellon Professor at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. In addition to his Northwestern departmental and university appointments, he is affiliated faculty in: the Critical Theory Cluster; the Departments of African American Studies, Art Theory & Practice, and Performance Studies; and the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. His writing—which has been translated into French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish—focuses on global modern and contemporary art with an emphasis on articulations of blackness in the Western visual field. An editor of October and a contributing editor of Artforum, Copeland has also published in American Art, Art Journal, ASAP/J, The Brooklyn Rail, Callaloo, Camera Obscura, Nka, Parkett, Qui Parle, Representations, and Small Axe as well as in numerous international exhibition catalogues and essay collections, from the award-winning overview Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art to the groundbreaking anthology Histórias Afro-Atlânticas produced by the Museu de Arte de Saõ Paulo. 

Notable among his publications is Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America, a book funded by a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program Grant and published in 2013 by the University of Chicago Press. Focused on the work of Renée Green, Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson and Fred Wilson, the book considers how slavery shaped American art in the last decades of the 20th century to argue for a reorientation of modern and contemporary art history toward the matter of blackness. Copeland is now at work on two volumes that further interrogate the imbrication of the racial and the aesthetic: Black Modernisms, an anthology co-edited with Steven Nelson commissioned by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts; and In the Shadow of the Negress: Modern Artistic Practice in the Transatlantic World, a monograph exploring the constitutive role played by fictions of black womanhood in Western art from the late-eighteenth century to the present. He is also refining a related essay collection with Chicago—currently entitled Touched by the Mother’: On Black Men, the Aesthetic Field, and Other Feminist Horizons, 1966-2016—that brings together many of his new and previously published writings and that has already been recognized with the 2017 Absolut Art Writing Award, intended to support “transformative projects by the world’s most creative talent.” 

Copeland's various research interests are reflected by his interdisciplinary course offerings, which range from an introductory survey focused on Euro-American modernisms and their global entanglements to the graduate seminar “Appropriation (North and South),”conceptualized in collaboration with leading South African critic Athi Mongezeleli Joja. Copeland has served as primary advisor for dissertations exploring: the tension between primitivism and cosmopolitanism in twentieth-century African American painting; the third world guerilla as a model for American performance artists in the long 1970s; early 21st-century Chinese art’s literal and figurative haunting by socialist realist aesthetics; the intersection of the racial and the ecological in nineteenth-century Francophone Caribbean visual culture; and the politics of death in black South African visual and performing arts both during and after apartheid. Alongside his work as a teacher, critic, editor, scholar, and administrator—both for the Black Arts Initiative and The Graduate School, where he served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs—he has co-curated exhibitions such as Interstellar Low Ways (with Anthony Elms), and co-organized international conferences like “Afro-Pessimist Aesthetics” (with Sampada Aranke). 

An alumnus of the Whitney Independent Study Program, the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism, and the Academic Leadership Program, Copeland has received support from the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, l’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center for American Modernism, the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, the Program of African Studies at Northwestern, and the Terra Foundation for American Art. He currently serves on the International Advisory Board of Art History, the Curatorial Board of Iceberg Projects, and the Board of the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs. In 2019, his contributions to the field were recognized by the High Museum of Art with the David C. Driskell Prize in African American Art and Art History. 

Program Area: African American and African Diaspora, Global Modern and Contemporary

Regional Specialization: African American and African Diaspora, United States and Canada, Europe

Selected Publications

Huey Copeland, "Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death," b.O.s. 1.3, ASAP/Journal, June 4, 2018.

Leah Dickerman, David Joselit, and Mignon Nixon, "Afrotropes: A Conversation with Huey Copeland & Krista Thompson," October 162 (Fall 2017): 3-18.

Huey Copeland, "Flow and Arrest," Small Axe: A Caribbean Platform of Criticism 48 (November 2015): 205-224.

Huey Copeland, "Babel Screened: On Race, Narcissism, and the Predication of American Video Art," in Black Is, Black Ain't, ed. Hamza Walker and Karen Reimer (Chicago: Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, 2013), 44-55.

Huey Copeland, "In the Wake of the Negress," in Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art, ed. Cornelia Butler and Alexandra Schwartz (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2010), 480-497.

Photo by Bonnie Robinson for The Graduate School, 2017

Back to top