I’d like to see a bit more forest through these trees regarding The Smithsonian fiasco. The institute made a mistake both morally and strategically when they removed David Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in My Belly” a video sparking the wrath of The Catholic League and incoming House Majority leader Eric Cantor (et al), and even the show’s curators David Ward and Jonathon Kurtz agree on this. Their position isn’t the same though when AA Bronson, a participating artist, told them they needed to re-install the work, or send his own piece back, “Felix”.
Ward told CBC this morning he was sympathetic to Bronson’s position, but that he felt the action would only further damage the show. Bronson does not agree saying “This is like saying ‘well we have to sit at the back of the bus, but at least we’re on the bus.’”
It’s also letting the curatorial investment already put into the show get in the way of making solid decisions. The job of a museum curator by definition is to care for the work of the artist, and if one artist feels that changes to the show compromise their work, than the request to remove the piece should be honored. If this means that more artists request the return of their work, than so be it. These are the consequences of removing the Wojnarowicz from the exhibition in the first place.
As it happens, The National Gallery of Canada owns the Bronson piece in question, an unfortunate turn of luck for Bronson, as they’ve been saddled with Director Marc Mayer, a man who just last year, was the center of controversy when he declared the museum was “blind to color” and only saw “excellence”. Mayer did not say whether he also concluded that the reason the museum exhibited and owned more work made by straight white men was because they are better at making it.
Not surprisingly, the director once more demonstrated buffoonery, explaining today on CBC that the National Gallery didn’t want to get involved in the controversy because it was outside of Canada. This rationale makes no sense. The work was loaned for the express purpose of engaging in an international conversation about sexual difference in art making. The talk isn’t so pleasant now, but since the gallery loaned the work it should work a little harder to care for the artist’s desires. Bronson has a lawyer, so there may be greater discussion about this between officials.
As far as I’m concerned Mayer’s actions disgrace Canada’s long history of embracing difference and stymie a chance for the country to shine by example on an international stage. Bronson claimed today that Canadian museums respect artists whereas American museums seldom do. Mayer’s actions go a far way in revealing the fallacy of those assertions.
Kriston Capps: Silence = Unprofessional