Darby English


Darby English is the Carl Darling Buck Professor of Art History. 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. From 2014 to 2020, English was Adjunct Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. 

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 centers on the era of integration in the United States, and particularly ways in which fine art and popular culture produced since 1954 have prepared us to welcome—or reject—the passing of difference as we knew it. 

His publications include six books. Three 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 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Creative Capital Foundation, Clark Art Institute, the Getty Research Institute, the Institute for Advanced Study, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, and the College Art Association, which awarded English the 2020 Frank Jewett Mather Award.

A periodic contributor to exhibition catalogues, he has recently published “The Talking at Money,” in NOT I (2020), “A Way beyond Art” in Rachel Harrison Life Hack (2019), “The Dome as Fact and Façade” in Martin Puryear: Liberty/Libertá (2019), “Awash in Desire” in Silke Otto-Knapp—Bühnenbilder (2019), and “Modernism’s War on Terror” in Outliers and American Vanguard Art (2017). His short-form writing has appeared in Art Bulletin, Artforum, caareviews, The Guardian, The International Review of African-American Art and other venues. English is a subject of What It Means to Write about Art: Interviews with Art Critics (2018).

English will deliver the 2020-21 West Memorial Lecture at the Stanford Humanities Center. 



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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