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Bound to Appear

Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America

At the close of the twentieth century, black artists began to figure prominently in the mainstream American art world for the first time. Thanks to the social advances of the civil rights movement and the rise of multiculturalism, African American artists in the late 1980s and early ’90s enjoyed unprecedented access to established institutions of publicity and display. Yet in this moment of ostensible freedom, black cultural practitioners found themselves turning to the history of slavery.
Bound to Appear focuses on four of these artists—Renée Green, Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, and Fred Wilson—who have dominated and shaped the field of American art over the past two decades through large-scale installations that radically departed from prior conventions for representing the enslaved. Huey Copeland shows that their projects draw on strategies associated with minimalism, conceptualism, and institutional critique to position the slave as a vexed figure—both subject and object, property and person. They also engage the visual logic of race in modernity and the challenges negotiated by black subjects in the present. As such, Copeland argues, their work reframes strategies of representation and rethinks how blackness might be imagined and felt long after the end of the “peculiar institution.” The first book to examine in depth these artists’ engagements with slavery, Bound to Appear will leave an indelible mark on modern and contemporary art.

280 pages | 65 color plates, 82 halftones | 8 1/2 x 11 | © 2013

Art: American Art, Art--General Studies

Black Studies


“[A] lavishly illustrated and ambitious book…. Highly recommended.”


"Taken together, this book’s theoretical and critical maneuvers are consistently dazzling. . . . Bound to Appear’s combination of sensory description, sensitive handling of theory, and thorough research on featured artists and their milieu makes it a substantial and fresh piece of art history."


"Copeland . . . [has] done remarkable work bringing the lens of ‘post-slavery’ to bear not only on the objects of . . . analysis, but on . . . readers’ senses of identity and community, as well as our notions of historical legacy."

Oxford Art Journal

"Bound to Appear is not about the comforts of representation. . . . Instead, it leads us to the limits of representational discourse, to something deeper and more opaque. . . . Bound to Appear adjusts our vision, tunes our listening practices, and recalibrates our haptic sensibilities to see blackness everywhere, in all its pain and promises of resistance."

Art Journal

“Much like Paul Gilroy’s seminal text BlackAtlantic, which precedes it by two decades, the project’s greatest strength is its heterogeneity derived from working across previously unconnected spaces, especially the site-specific practices of these four artists. Copeland does not make a claim for mastery but instead plots the co-ordinates and opens up terrain for future mapping by readers and viewers of these ‘spatial texts.’ Copeland's phenomenological investigation is equal parts mind and spirit, capturing the geist of this heated era’s complex politics with fresh clarity and boundless sensitivity.”


“Copeland’s own elegantly composed and dynamically well-organized analysis fits comfortably with much of the text-laden works carried out by the artists themselves.”

Art History

“A lavishly beautiful book, this work engenders a text that matches the seriousness and dignity of its presentation. A highly gifted writer, Copeland navigates the discourses of his field of study and the accumulated position-takings of contemporary cultural critique in its minoritarian rigor and emphases, as well as a general appeal to what Virginia Woolf once called the 'common reader,' with uncommon idiomatic ease, with inimitable grace. The benefits that accrue to the reader as a result are immense.”

Small Axe

Bound to Appear is bound to change forever the ways we think about blackness, historical memory, and contemporary art. In combining close-looking, theoretical sophistication, and writerly verve, Copeland makes us see the work and world of visual art differently. Students of contemporary art history and black cultural studies will welcome this book with appropriate admiration and wild abandon.”

Richard Meyer, Stanford University

“The archival turn among Black Atlantic artists gets the depth of attention it has long deserved in Bound to Appear. Asking why the subject of slavery is so resistant to representation, Huey Copeland builds upon studies of race and visuality inaugurated by Ralph Ellison and Frantz Fanon, adding far-reaching insights into the politics of form in post-medium art. Introducing a bold voice whose eloquence delivers conceptual acuity with ethical urgency, this field-turning book will be eagerly embraced across the arts and humanities for the future horizons of intellectual adventure it opens up.”

Kobena Mercer, Yale University

“With its rigorous and nuanced theoretical engagement as well as its meticulous description and analysis of artworks, Bound to Appear brings together the literature of black radical thought and modernist formalism not only to enhance our understanding of the complex range of issues and materials engaged by the artists under scrutiny but also to insist that their practices are central to the larger histories of modernism and contemporary art. Throughout, Huey Copeland’s prose is simply stunning, punctuated with moving rhetorical flourishes and crescendos. This is an incredibly imaginative and compelling book.”

Steven Nelson, University of California, Los Angeles

 “Art history of the sort that Huey Copeland produces, in its capacity to make us see works of art anew, makes us see the world anew as well. Such vision is often discomfiting and, as such, unwanted precisely insofar as it refuses to allow any simple separation of beauty and ugliness, enjoyment and terror. But this is exactly what makes such vision necessary. This is all extraordinarily clear in the work Copeland has done in Bound to Appear, a brilliantly accomplished and vivid examination of the legacies of slavery that continue to haunt American art.”

Fred Moten, Duke University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


Introduction. The Blackness of Things

1 Fred Wilson and the Rhetoric of Redress

2 Lorna Simpson’s Figurative Transitions

3 Glenn Ligon and the Matter of Fugitivity

4 Renée Green’s Diasporic Imagination

Epilogue. Alternate Routes


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