Chelsea Art Museum President Dorothea Keeser and Curator Manon Slome Respond

by Art Fag City on September 26, 2008 · 34 comments Events

josh.jpg
Josh Azzarella, from the series Still Works.

President Dorothea Keeser at the Chelsea Art Museum spoke to me today about The Aesthetics of Terror, an exhibition this blog reported in error had been canceled on her authority. Curator Manon Slome called a halt to the exhibition as a result of significant differences in opinion regarding content and the direction.   While the details remain murky, frankly, it seems difficult to imagine a political themed show weathering well executive decisions made with the rationale, “That’s not art”.

Paddy Johnson: We discussed this a little over email, and I wanted to continue this with you now so you have the opportunity to express the museum’s view point.

Dorothea Keeser: The problem is that you had something that is completely wrong, because the curator Manon Slome quit and canceled the exhibition in the same email. She did not quit as a response to anything we did. On the contrary, we accepted the final version of the catalog about 6 hours before this.

Paddy Johnson: So she didn't quit as a response to what you had done? I understood the opposite from what an artist had written about the show. It was taken from an email Manon forwarded to me this morning. I'll read you what she wrote:

Dear Friends and colleagues,

You probably gathered from the change of title and the constant changes of date that there were problems at the Chelsea Art Museum regarding the exhibition which began as “Aesthetics of Terror.” Having been on the calendar and in preparation for almost two years, with everyone kept fully involved in the show’s development, the president of the museum concluded that the show glorified terrorism and showed disrespect for its victims.

Our willingness to accommodate and conduct an attentive and sensitive dialogue with the museum, was met with increasing hostility. What began with questions as to the title soon evolved into tactics of blocking, demands for change, for the elimination of some work, some essays and images from the catalogue which would have seriously compromised the show. As a result Manon resigned from the museum and we pulled the show.

Dorothea Keeser: It is incorrect that it went beyond a normal discussion, about this or that text and about, for example, severe grammatical catastrophes that should have been corrected before the printing. I think it is very acceptable to criticize [a catalog with] an introduction which I wrote. So if I write an introduction for an exhibition, it is an exhibition which has been discussed with me, it has been accepted by me. I have been very integrated. I translated German text for her that was never put into the catalog. But that doesn't mean that we didn't have a normal professional dialog. Nothing sounded like what you read to me.

Paddy Johnson: So you never said that the show glorified terrorism and showed disrespect for its victims?

Dorothea Keeser: I said there were several exhibition parts which glorified terrorism and which disrespected the human beings. Absolutely. I am absolutely able stand up for that because that is my opinion. I do not think that an artist should show children and women which are torn apart by bombs. That is not the question for the artist. An artist has to go one step beyond, and find what are the reasons for terrorism and how one can go to another way a revolution against terrorism, and not just show very banal photos which we see every day in the television. That's not art.

Paddy Johnson: So which artist is doing that?

Dorothea Keeser: I do not know, and would not like to get into the discussion of whether I did not like this or that artist. I only went into the discussion that I think we have to discuss both sides; why there is terrorism, and what other possibilities there are. A lot of peace makers have had very big success. The only way to fight is not to throw guns at innocent people. And this is the perfect exhibition to discuss these ideas and not to cancel it! This openness for discussion was completely lacking because if I say something like this, I do not criticize, I try to help. I want to open a discussion and a dialog.

A response from Curator Manon Slome

I would like to say that I am not looking for controversy. I was surprised by Dorothea’s turn against the show as she has always showed a wonderful tolerance for individual rights and political freedom. I now only seek a receptive venue to place what I believe is an extremely important exhibition that sheds light on an undeniable phenomena of our times.

Editor’s note: Technical problems resulted in a fragmented post earlier today. Apologies.

Additional details at Off Center

  • http://dfimagery.com Donald Frazell

    Rights are always in conflict, as seldom is only one involved. And yes, there must be some definition to what art is, as trying to be everything, leaves it as nothing. It is a word, and all words are symbols. What does art symbolize? Thats a definition. Define it. She defined it in her way, so be it.

    Can always take it elswhere, its a free country. To say no as well as yes. To try and keep something from being shown would be bad, but to not accept something is well within HER rights.

    Besides from the two images you have shown, they are dumb and obvious, not art at all. MY definiton, take it or leave it. But my right to say it.

  • http://dfimagery.com Donald Frazell

    Rights are always in conflict, as seldom is only one involved. And yes, there must be some definition to what art is, as trying to be everything, leaves it as nothing. It is a word, and all words are symbols. What does art symbolize? Thats a definition. Define it. She defined it in her way, so be it.

    Can always take it elswhere, its a free country. To say no as well as yes. To try and keep something from being shown would be bad, but to not accept something is well within HER rights.

    Besides from the two images you have shown, they are dumb and obvious, not art at all. MY definiton, take it or leave it. But my right to say it.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwC1swvlBPs ANN following Donald

    I love you Donald

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwC1swvlBPs ANN following Donald

    I love you Donald

  • greg.org

    hmmm, from Keeser’s statements, I’m still not grasping what actually happened and how to judge the credibility of the cancellation/censorship charge the curator originally made.

    “I do not think that an artist should show children and women which are torn apart by bombs. That is not the question for the artist.” While showing such work or not is within a museum director’s purview, defining an artist’s “questions” is decidedly not. Also, the statement is demonstrably false. For better or worse, Thomas Hirschhorn has shown art on exactly that subject in NYC, and he did it in part because such images were not, in fact, being seen.

  • greg.org

    hmmm, from Keeser’s statements, I’m still not grasping what actually happened and how to judge the credibility of the cancellation/censorship charge the curator originally made.

    “I do not think that an artist should show children and women which are torn apart by bombs. That is not the question for the artist.” While showing such work or not is within a museum director’s purview, defining an artist’s “questions” is decidedly not. Also, the statement is demonstrably false. For better or worse, Thomas Hirschhorn has shown art on exactly that subject in NYC, and he did it in part because such images were not, in fact, being seen.

  • Art Fag City

    Greg: Agreed. The details are still very murky.

  • Art Fag City

    Greg: Agreed. The details are still very murky.

  • The Hill

    This rupture scrambles everyone involved but also forces defined positions on what counts as valuable, though not necessarily as art. Clement Greenberg’s armchair Marxism waned after years of socialist inspired art in America (Mexican muralists, Rosenberg, e.g.) in favor of a more Hegelian softened marxian aesthetic, lower case intended. He wrote, paraphrasing here, that politics in art results in either bad art or bad politics and, thus, artists should stick to art only. Thus formalist painting had its rational. Artists are left however with the turmoil of thinking to not raise awareness duels w/ the realization of how futile political art can be in our bleached galleries, often seemingly an extension of Tiffany’s. I’ve heard docents in museums discuss Goya’s Third of May in terms of its ‘underlying principles of sound composition’, or his Disaster series praised for the line quality of the figures. The most ludicrous attempt was the famous Serrano addressed as a ‘masterful fusing of subtle/dramatic color w/ macro photography.’ The answer might be that galleries are also cultural institutions and can testify to all aspects of culture. Thus, at times, the question of art can be set aside, as in the napalmed child photo of the Vietnam era. For the museum to fall back on the old ‘This is not art.’ dictum washes their hands of responsibility, but also counts as a cheap political trick on their part depending, on who’s being offended.

    Two things re: the above struck me, as I have been curator at large size museums. When did museums start having Presidents, an elected position as opposed to an appointed Director’s position? And, I’m 99% sure that u r only reporting/receiving half the story. Everything I did as curator often had something to do w/ a board member(s) who represented maybe the corporation that underwrites or was behind the scenes powerful. I would interview them.

  • The Hill

    This rupture scrambles everyone involved but also forces defined positions on what counts as valuable, though not necessarily as art. Clement Greenberg’s armchair Marxism waned after years of socialist inspired art in America (Mexican muralists, Rosenberg, e.g.) in favor of a more Hegelian softened marxian aesthetic, lower case intended. He wrote, paraphrasing here, that politics in art results in either bad art or bad politics and, thus, artists should stick to art only. Thus formalist painting had its rational. Artists are left however with the turmoil of thinking to not raise awareness duels w/ the realization of how futile political art can be in our bleached galleries, often seemingly an extension of Tiffany’s. I’ve heard docents in museums discuss Goya’s Third of May in terms of its ‘underlying principles of sound composition’, or his Disaster series praised for the line quality of the figures. The most ludicrous attempt was the famous Serrano addressed as a ‘masterful fusing of subtle/dramatic color w/ macro photography.’ The answer might be that galleries are also cultural institutions and can testify to all aspects of culture. Thus, at times, the question of art can be set aside, as in the napalmed child photo of the Vietnam era. For the museum to fall back on the old ‘This is not art.’ dictum washes their hands of responsibility, but also counts as a cheap political trick on their part depending, on who’s being offended.

    Two things re: the above struck me, as I have been curator at large size museums. When did museums start having Presidents, an elected position as opposed to an appointed Director’s position? And, I’m 99% sure that u r only reporting/receiving half the story. Everything I did as curator often had something to do w/ a board member(s) who represented maybe the corporation that underwrites or was behind the scenes powerful. I would interview them.

  • 819studio

    As an artist involved with this situation, I find this situation to be rather frustrating.

    First and foremost, the artists in this exhibition have yet to receive any communication from the museum. The only information regarding the situation we have gotten has been via Manon’s email, the same one you have reproduced in part on this site. One would think the museum would have some type of direct communication with the artists involved as soon as possible.

    As for Ms. Keeser’s comments they only raise more question and further muddy the waters. Her statement below is quiet confounding:

    “I do not think that an artist should show children and women which are torn apart by bombs. That is not the question for the artist. An artist has to go one step beyond, … and not just show very banal photos which we see every day in the television. That’s not art.”

    I find it confounding because I have a copy of what is purportedly the final draft of the exhibition catalog. Being the final draft, and assuming that it contains all of the work in the exhibition, I find no work that fits Ms. Keeser’s description of what she considers “banal photos which we see every day in the television” and “not art”.

    Furthermore, if Ms. Keeser has been “very integrated” in this exhibition, why is the content of some work in question roughly 40 days from the scheduled opening? One has to conclude that after two years of preparation, she had seen the work scheduled to be shown previously.

    There simply needs to be more forthrightness from the institution about this situation.

  • 819studio

    As an artist involved with this situation, I find this situation to be rather frustrating.

    First and foremost, the artists in this exhibition have yet to receive any communication from the museum. The only information regarding the situation we have gotten has been via Manon’s email, the same one you have reproduced in part on this site. One would think the museum would have some type of direct communication with the artists involved as soon as possible.

    As for Ms. Keeser’s comments they only raise more question and further muddy the waters. Her statement below is quiet confounding:

    “I do not think that an artist should show children and women which are torn apart by bombs. That is not the question for the artist. An artist has to go one step beyond, … and not just show very banal photos which we see every day in the television. That’s not art.”

    I find it confounding because I have a copy of what is purportedly the final draft of the exhibition catalog. Being the final draft, and assuming that it contains all of the work in the exhibition, I find no work that fits Ms. Keeser’s description of what she considers “banal photos which we see every day in the television” and “not art”.

    Furthermore, if Ms. Keeser has been “very integrated” in this exhibition, why is the content of some work in question roughly 40 days from the scheduled opening? One has to conclude that after two years of preparation, she had seen the work scheduled to be shown previously.

    There simply needs to be more forthrightness from the institution about this situation.

  • Kelli Williams

    ” I do not think that an artist should show children and women which are torn apart by bombs.” Maybe all the puppies had already been cast. Maybe the artist’s burka was at the dry cleaners.
    I’m perplexed, I thought it was terrorism not art that “disrespected human beings”. This is an example of a sad, reactionary disengagement pervading every aspect of our culture. Political art is more necessary at this moment in history than ever.

  • Kelli Williams

    ” I do not think that an artist should show children and women which are torn apart by bombs.” Maybe all the puppies had already been cast. Maybe the artist’s burka was at the dry cleaners.
    I’m perplexed, I thought it was terrorism not art that “disrespected human beings”. This is an example of a sad, reactionary disengagement pervading every aspect of our culture. Political art is more necessary at this moment in history than ever.

  • http://dfimagery.com Donald Frazell

    Not suprised, The Hill writes like a curator, endless drivel about nothing, completely unreadable by any non art school indoctrinated intelligent human beings. This is the Presidents decision, I hope it was not jsut about human body parts, that is not a reason to stop the showing. If seen as propaganda, from any side, most certainly is.

    They can hold a show, but can get together and rent a space, should be eay with the current economy. But Goyas work was most certainly NOT propaganda, but about the horror of war. And the fight of the human spirit agaisnt tyranny. Not that their government was any better than Napoleons.. Not necessarily against the French, who he worked with, but despised also. They being the occupying power of his homeland of course he showed mostly their attrocities, they controlled it. And any Abu Grahib show should show American attrocities, though not exactly on the same scale as the French. No one died, more about humiliation and sadism of a few. But if done well could show a therem about humanity. Which is arts conern, not jsut a point in time by certain combatants. art is about the human soul, psyche, essence, mind, whatever you want to call it.

    So the show may be worth something, but this person decided not as art. which is the museums field. So be it, move on. And if you mean it, got rent a space. You got tehn publicity to run with. Though a little more pressing matter at hand now. like teh collapse of the economy.

    And my wife loves you too ann, finds it interesting i have a groupie. I am not so impressed. Go back and terrorize winkleman, those ephermeral folks need a taste of reality.

    Art collegia delenda est

  • http://dfimagery.com Donald Frazell

    Not suprised, The Hill writes like a curator, endless drivel about nothing, completely unreadable by any non art school indoctrinated intelligent human beings. This is the Presidents decision, I hope it was not jsut about human body parts, that is not a reason to stop the showing. If seen as propaganda, from any side, most certainly is.

    They can hold a show, but can get together and rent a space, should be eay with the current economy. But Goyas work was most certainly NOT propaganda, but about the horror of war. And the fight of the human spirit agaisnt tyranny. Not that their government was any better than Napoleons.. Not necessarily against the French, who he worked with, but despised also. They being the occupying power of his homeland of course he showed mostly their attrocities, they controlled it. And any Abu Grahib show should show American attrocities, though not exactly on the same scale as the French. No one died, more about humiliation and sadism of a few. But if done well could show a therem about humanity. Which is arts conern, not jsut a point in time by certain combatants. art is about the human soul, psyche, essence, mind, whatever you want to call it.

    So the show may be worth something, but this person decided not as art. which is the museums field. So be it, move on. And if you mean it, got rent a space. You got tehn publicity to run with. Though a little more pressing matter at hand now. like teh collapse of the economy.

    And my wife loves you too ann, finds it interesting i have a groupie. I am not so impressed. Go back and terrorize winkleman, those ephermeral folks need a taste of reality.

    Art collegia delenda est

  • Art Fag City

    Donald: Just to be clear, it was the curator’s decision to pull the show, not Dorothea Keeser’s. Slome pulled the show because she felt the show was compromised under Keeser’s authority.

  • Art Fag City

    Donald: Just to be clear, it was the curator’s decision to pull the show, not Dorothea Keeser’s. Slome pulled the show because she felt the show was compromised under Keeser’s authority.

  • Derek

    Here’s my question: What about all the famous paintings of Washington in the Potomac, The Battle of Antietam…and many other famous paintings…’of war’…does that not constitute…or glorify terror then as well…should we remove ALL paintings/artwork that depicts war and battles…because one person’s subjective interpretation…this place…the planet…is getting very pathetic…when a few…can determine what everyone else should see…here’s a suggestion: If it offends you…DON’T see it. How difficult is that to wrap around…

  • Derek

    Here’s my question: What about all the famous paintings of Washington in the Potomac, The Battle of Antietam…and many other famous paintings…’of war’…does that not constitute…or glorify terror then as well…should we remove ALL paintings/artwork that depicts war and battles…because one person’s subjective interpretation…this place…the planet…is getting very pathetic…when a few…can determine what everyone else should see…here’s a suggestion: If it offends you…DON’T see it. How difficult is that to wrap around…

  • http://reroundscox.net Richard Rounds

    I think the “Art” is in the conflict.

  • http://reroundscox.net Richard Rounds

    I think the “Art” is in the conflict.

  • Bret

    i am a staff sergeant in the United States Army. i am also a National Guardsman. i am embarrassed and appalled at the treatment of the prisoners by my fellow soldiers.

    i do not want this exhibit withdrawn however, because it is a vision of what we should strive to avoid and to prosecute in our society.

    -bret

  • http://FoxNews Bret

    i am a staff sergeant in the United States Army. i am also a National Guardsman. i am embarrassed and appalled at the treatment of the prisoners by my fellow soldiers.

    i do not want this exhibit withdrawn however, because it is a vision of what we should strive to avoid and to prosecute in our society.

    -bret

  • http://artofmulata.wordpress.com pol rosenthal

    donald frazell wrote: “Not suprised, The Hill writes like a curator, endless drivel about nothing, completely unreadable by any non art school indoctrinated intelligent human beings.”

    mr. frazell, did you even read what the Hill wrote? it would be surprising if you answered ‘yes.’ you and the hill are in agreement. if you had bothered to pay attention to the hill’s statement you would have realized that you are on the same side.

    hope you haven’t made an enemy by rushing in so haphazardly. or simply lost a supporter. and just out of curiousity i’m curious what part of the hill’s argument did you find unreadable and why?

  • http://artofmulata.wordpress.com pol rosenthal

    donald frazell wrote: “Not suprised, The Hill writes like a curator, endless drivel about nothing, completely unreadable by any non art school indoctrinated intelligent human beings.”

    mr. frazell, did you even read what the Hill wrote? it would be surprising if you answered ‘yes.’ you and the hill are in agreement. if you had bothered to pay attention to the hill’s statement you would have realized that you are on the same side.

    hope you haven’t made an enemy by rushing in so haphazardly. or simply lost a supporter. and just out of curiousity i’m curious what part of the hill’s argument did you find unreadable and why?

  • http://dfimagery.com Donald Frazell

    It is the kind of obtuse, opaque, unfathomable writing, that has gotten art into its current situation. Splitting hairs on a dead rat, and not seeing the rat itself. And recognizing a life form, which art can be, but not in this clinical myopic self infatuated wordsmithing about nothing. Jerry Seinfeld is the god of that breed of curator, a plague upon man at the moment.

    Doesnt matter what little is said, it misses the point, and the art or lack therof, completely. And those history paintnign are not creative art, but yes, propoganda. Well done histodrama, though this show looks pretty wimpy as most contemporary art is. Softness makes softness. There are many types of art as there are musics. Creative art is supposed to be what artists talk about, plus the Fine Arts for the rich, currently espoused by Hirst and his ilk. Other sites for grandma art and flag waving, or burning, works.

    Or maybe I am wrong. But seems like that is the premise here. Ask Paddy, its his site.

    ACDE

  • http://dfimagery.com Donald Frazell

    It is the kind of obtuse, opaque, unfathomable writing, that has gotten art into its current situation. Splitting hairs on a dead rat, and not seeing the rat itself. And recognizing a life form, which art can be, but not in this clinical myopic self infatuated wordsmithing about nothing. Jerry Seinfeld is the god of that breed of curator, a plague upon man at the moment.

    Doesnt matter what little is said, it misses the point, and the art or lack therof, completely. And those history paintnign are not creative art, but yes, propoganda. Well done histodrama, though this show looks pretty wimpy as most contemporary art is. Softness makes softness. There are many types of art as there are musics. Creative art is supposed to be what artists talk about, plus the Fine Arts for the rich, currently espoused by Hirst and his ilk. Other sites for grandma art and flag waving, or burning, works.

    Or maybe I am wrong. But seems like that is the premise here. Ask Paddy, its his site.

    ACDE

  • Tina

    I have heard very little by way of good news about the management of the Cheslea Art Museum (and I know people who have worked there and had dealings with the place). the interview with the self appointed president Ms Keesler confirms my thoughts about the venue – a total vanity project primarily oriented around a compulsive desire to display her husbands somewhat pleasant work. No wonder she did not want to display a show with a challenging content! I hope the show finds another venue as the debate about the subject matter is very timely.

  • Tina

    I have heard very little by way of good news about the management of the Cheslea Art Museum (and I know people who have worked there and had dealings with the place). the interview with the self appointed president Ms Keesler confirms my thoughts about the venue – a total vanity project primarily oriented around a compulsive desire to display her husbands somewhat pleasant work. No wonder she did not want to display a show with a challenging content! I hope the show finds another venue as the debate about the subject matter is very timely.

  • Kate Travers

    @Donald Frazell: “Ask Paddy, its his site.”

    Paddy is a woman. FYI.

  • Kate Travers

    @Donald Frazell: “Ask Paddy, its his site.”

    Paddy is a woman. FYI.

  • http://www.fintonsculpture.com Finton Shaw

    Ms Keeser, I do support your right to decide what art you want to exhibit at your museum. I must admit that I am a bit disturbed at your decision as I am a staunch supporter of freedom of expression. There is a little book out there called ‘Art and Fear’ and I think that galleries and museums throughout the world are much impacted by this entity we call FEAR. Artists are a viable link to the communities and the world in their quest to share the human impulse, the very nerves and sinews that bind us together as a people.
    I believe that the parent should make the decisions with respect to what content their children should view in an art venue.
    Artists, and I speak of real artists, have much passion about their work and I think it atrocious for for artists works are censured, or not given their day.
    The definition of art has been debated for years and everyone has an opinion and all of these people at one time or another has an opinion that literally stinks. None of us are right all of the time.
    I too one day hope to be given an opportunity to exhibit in a museum my controversial sculptures without being censured. Censorship is a despot and is at the very heart of tyranny.
    I truly wish you well in your many important decisions you have to make in the years to come.

  • http://www.fintonsculpture.com Finton Shaw

    Ms Keeser, I do support your right to decide what art you want to exhibit at your museum. I must admit that I am a bit disturbed at your decision as I am a staunch supporter of freedom of expression. There is a little book out there called ‘Art and Fear’ and I think that galleries and museums throughout the world are much impacted by this entity we call FEAR. Artists are a viable link to the communities and the world in their quest to share the human impulse, the very nerves and sinews that bind us together as a people.
    I believe that the parent should make the decisions with respect to what content their children should view in an art venue.
    Artists, and I speak of real artists, have much passion about their work and I think it atrocious for for artists works are censured, or not given their day.
    The definition of art has been debated for years and everyone has an opinion and all of these people at one time or another has an opinion that literally stinks. None of us are right all of the time.
    I too one day hope to be given an opportunity to exhibit in a museum my controversial sculptures without being censured. Censorship is a despot and is at the very heart of tyranny.
    I truly wish you well in your many important decisions you have to make in the years to come.

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