The University of Maryland, Baltimore County recently suffered the great loss of Dr. Maurice Berger, Research Professor and Chief Curator for the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture. Having suffered from coronavirus symptoms, Berger passed away at the age of 63. However, Berger was an innovative, passionate art historian, curator and writer and he deserves to be remembered for far more than as a victim of this pandemic.
Berger’s brilliance shines through every avenue his career has journeyed. He made a grand impression on a vast world of art and visual culture. His abundance of accomplishments sings the legacy of the extraordinary man. As a dedicated advocate for social justice, Berger’s works have fought for equity and representation in visual culture for lives less privileged than his own.
As a gay Jewish man, Berger experienced the prejudice of homophobia as well as anti-semitism; however, he recognized that no mistreatment he had seen could even compare to racism. This passion to unveil the severity of social injustice, specifically in the field of visual culture, and to provide representation of artists affected by these injustices grew into the core of his many projects and curations.
For instance, Berger used his position as a writer for The New York Times to share relationships between race and photography in Race Stories, a monthly column for which he was awarded the International Center of Photograhy’s Infinity Award for Critical Writing and Research in 2018.
Berger also curated For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights, a CADVC-hosted exhibit, with which The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture stood as a collaborative partner for. This was an extraordinary accomplishment that will be marked in his history forever.
He was a true art critic, unafraid to uproot current standards of art and question their validity and justice. With publications such as “Are Art Museums Racist?” Berger grappled with real issues and disparities in the field of visual culture without dilution or fear. His thoughts did not soften for the world. They were blunt. They were honest. They demanded change. Berger said what needed to be heard.
At the root of Berger’s career choices and curations was a genuine sense of care. He was generous with his kindness, and those who worked with him will remember him for so. Photographer, writer and community facilitator, seher sikandar, reflects on the memorable impression Berger made, in their short time together, “i had the great pleasure of photographing maurice in his home for undo magazine last year for their issue on aging. in my couple hours with him, he left an indelible impression. he was thoughtful, gentle, passionate, kind, incisive, and generous. an endless well of knowledge and ideas, he was a fascinating and enlivening conversation partner who stirred deep parts within me. a complex embodiment of a life wholly lived— from melancholy to magic— he was an urgent reminder to engage life fully. i remember thinking that i’d just met one of this world’s uniquely remarkable humans. such gratitude. i told him that i’d love to get together again one day— i’m not sure he knew how much i meant that. maurice had a gift, and in knowing him in those two hours, i am certain he’s left a mark on anyone he’s ever met. thank you, maurice, you are loved dearly.”
And of course, Berger had great influence on UMBC as chief curator for the CADVC. He was deeply admired by the community on campus. Symmes Gardner, director of the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, reflects on Berger, “Through his work at the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture as Chief Curator and Research Professor, Dr. Maurice Berger was a tireless champion for civil rights. He purposely constructed each of his exhibition projects and publications to reexamine the roles art and media play in contemporary culture. In doing so, Berger allowed viewers to actively reevaluate cultural constructs familiar to themselves and permit them to expand their concept of human dignity and equality.”
Maurice Berger is not defined by his loss but rather the permanence of his influence. His impact lives among the many artists and people he has helped throughout his life. He will be missed dearly, but he will always be remembered for who he was, what he achieved and what he built to be the stepping stones for others to achieve.