Artnet reports on the three-year delay of a traveling show of the work of Philip Guston. What the museums called sensitivity to the issues that might be raised these days over such paintings, some critics called cowardice.
The Harvard Art Museums have one of his klanpaintings in its permanent collection, along with several paintings that don't show men in hoods.
Censorship by any other name . . .
The MFA is under no obligation to include or omit Guston’s work. There are hundreds of thousands of works in the museum’s own permanent collection that are not on display. It’s reductive to say that this curatorial decision is “censorship”.
Not to mention, it’s not hard to imagine earnest and thoughtful reasons not to show paintings such as THIS* painted by a white man at a white-lead institution in 2020 without providing thoughtful and spot-on context and critical examination.
(I can't figure out how to insert links with the a href="". Sorry.)
It sounds as if the purpose of Guston's showing paintings of hooded Klansmen was/is to make people aware that the United States, despite many good things about it, has a very nasty history, as well, and that the Ku Klux Klan was/is prejudiced, even today, against many different types of people, and that in addition to being anti-black, have also been anti-Roman Catholic, anti-Semitic, and anti-pretty much anything else, if one gets the drift. The purpose of displaying such paintings is to make people aware of the worst side of our history, so that things like that will not happen in the future.
But if the museum’s contextualization is inadequate, then it may be irresponsible to show such works in this moment where viewers could take away other, more nefarious messages.
The show was curated years ago; the anti-racism conversation has changed drastically. It seems as though the curatorial materials that accompanied the Guston show have become obsolete.
It’s not a bad thing to delay the show and get it right.
Not to mention, libraries do the same thing.
...with all that Jamaica plantation business.
Guston wasn't "cancelled"--his "use of the white-hooded figures as a way of 'implicating America, the New York art world and himself in a system that celebrates the horrors of white supremacy.'” (NYTimes) The exhibits were postponed because the museums are cowards.
The national poet of what was an oppressed Scotland at the time who never took up that job offer in Jamaica is now problematic? But the mid century Beat Poets aren't?
I see the wisdom in thinking about how to present this work. However, it still needs to be displayed and put in context. This is not a statue erected to honor Robert E Lee or Jefferson Davis. It's not created to be a symbol of white supremacy. It is a commentary on the society the artist grew up in.
I had similar issues with taking down the memorial to the Confederate war dead on the Boston Harbor Islands. If this was a memorial to white supremacy, good. Take it down. If it's a memorial to the soldiers who were imprisoned as POWs here in Boston - keep the memorialization but add context if the intent is to honor the common man.
I wouldn't delay the retrospective but wouldn't argue with that decision either.
But for the Harbor Island monument, blow the thing to bits. It's memorizing people who were willing to die to enslave others. The monument wasn't erected shortly after the war, it was installed by people who wanted to revise history to be sympathetic to the confederacy.
Didn't realize it was erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy. Keep it down then.
However, if there isn't one, I would hope there is narrative about a) the people who were there during the civil war, b) the history of the island before and after, and c) a history of the monument, who erected it, and why it was removed.
They did the right thing. The public/mob in this country is too fucking stupid and pathetic to digest this complicated message. They don’t deserve it.
The right thing? Censorship? Please explain.
The public/mob in this country is too fucking stupid and pathetic to digest this complicated message. Wow, this speaks volumes of how you view your fellow Bostonians.
Its 4 museums that worked together to put this exhibit together that are delaying it, not just Bostons MFA.
So when is the MFA going to get rid of all their Roman, Greek, and Egyptian art because those societies institutionalized slavery?
Those bleating "censorship!" and "cowards!" really should read this.
We're definitely in "we're not going to do this because some people might perceive it the wrong way" territory with a lot of things today, and I'm not a fan. Perception is important as is context, but where do we draw the line?
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