Darby English


At the University of Chicago, Darby English is the Carl Darling Buck Professor of Art History and Director of the Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture. His teaching and advising address subjects in cultural studies as well as modern and contemporary American and European art produced since the First World War. English is associate faculty in both the University’s Department of Visual Arts and its Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture. In 2010, he received the University of Chicago’s Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the nation’s oldest such prize. In 2019, English is serving as Exhibition Scholar for the 2019 Venice Biennale’s United States Pavilion, which features the work of Martin Puryear.

Generally, English’s scholarship explores the roles of art and art writing in the process and redescription, enablement and foreclosure of cultural change. His current research focuses on ways that fine art and popular culture produced since 1964 have prepared us to welcome—or reject—the passing of difference as we have known it.

English is author or coeditor of six books. Three of these are monographs: To Describe a Life: Notes from the Intersection of Art and Race Terror (Yale, 2019), 1971: A Year in the Life of Color (University of Chicago, 2016), and How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness (MIT, 2007). Three are coedited volumes: Among Others: Blackness at MoMA with Charlotte Barat (MoMA, 2019); Art History and Emergency with David Breslin (Yale, 2016); and Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress with Ian Berry, Vivian Patterson, and Mark Reinhardt (MIT, 2002; Rizzoli, 2007). For this work, English has been the recipient of fellowships and awards from the Clark Art Institute, the Institute for Advanced Study, the National Humanities Center, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Creative Capital Foundation, the Getty Research Institute, and the College Art Association, among other bodies.

A periodic contributor to exhibition catalogues, English has recently published “A Way beyond Art” in Rachel Harrison Life Hack (Sussman and Joselit; Whitney Museum and Yale, 2019), “The Dome as Fact and Façade” in Martin Puryear: Liberty/Libertá (Rappaport; Madison Square Park, 2019), “Awash in Desire” in Silke Otto-Knapp—Bühnenbilder (Midway, 2019), and “Modernism’s War on Terror” in Outliers and American Vanguard Art (Lynne Cooke; National Gallery of Art, 2017). Although English does not write criticism, he is a subject of What It Means to Write about Art: Interviews with Art Critics (David Zwirner Books, 2018). His short-form writing has appeared in Art Bulletin, Artforum, caareviews, The Guardian, The International Review of African-American Art and other venues.

At the Museum of Modern Art, New York, English is Adjunct Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture, in which role he focuses on acquisition and collection research, as well as presentation of the Museum’s collection.


1971: A Year in the Life of Color

University of Chicago Press

Art History and Emergency

Edited with David Breslin, Yale University Press

Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress

Edited with Ian Berry, Vivian Patterson, & Mark Reinhardt, MIT Press


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Modern Art and Aesthetics
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