Maurice Berger, Curator Outspoken About Race, Is Dead at 63

Maurice Berger, Curator Outspoken About Race, Is Dead at 63


Among the most prominent exhibitions Mr. Berger curated was “For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights,” which was seen in 2011 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington (which was then part of the National Museum of American History) and toured widely. In a telephone interview, Rhea Combs, curator of film and photography at the museum, reacted to Mr. Berger’s death.

“It’s really a tremendous loss to the art world,” she said, “because he was so fearless and so committed and so clear about the things he believed in, and unapologetic about it.”

Maurice Berger was born on May 22, 1956, in Manhattan. His father, Max, was an accountant, and his mother, Ruth Secunda Berger, was an opera singer and actress.

The family lived in a Lower East Side housing project that consisted predominantly of black and Puerto Rican families, and Mr. Berger early on saw the difference between having white skin and having brown. He could walk into a department store unnoticed, for instance, whereas his black friends would be followed by security guards.

“As a Jew, I have known anti-Semitism,” he wrote in Lens in 2017. “As a gay man, I have known homophobia. But neither has seemed as relentless as the racism I witnessed growing up — a steady drumbeat of slights, thinly veiled hostility and condescension perpetrated by even the most liberal and well-meaning people.”

He wrote frankly about his mother’s hostility toward her neighbors. She was a dark-skinned Sephardic Jew who thought her skin tone kept casting directors from giving her parts, and in his book “White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness” (1999) he recalled watching her, when he was a boy, putting on her thick makeup, a “mask of pure whiteness.”



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