Coronavirus Shutdowns and Charges of White Supremacy: American Art Museums are in CrisisBreaking News
tags: museums, racism, COVID-19
America’s great art museums are in crisis. And only some of the distress can be blamed on the coronavirus pandemic.
In a year marred by forced shutdowns, decreased revenue, deaccessioned artworks, staff cutbacks and canceled exhibitions, many art institutions have been rocked by a national moment of reckoning and increasingly vocal calls to acknowledge their racist histories and adopt anti-racist practices. Some activists have even suggested completely dismantling museums, echoing demands to defund or abolish the police.
Controversies seem to erupt almost weekly, and the criticism comes from multiple points of view. Museums are being challenged to diversify their collections, and many are finding it a difficult tightrope to walk. The Baltimore Museum of Art’s recent decision to sell works by Andy Warhol and Clyfford Still in an effort to diversify its collection — as well as to raise staff salaries and fund equity, diversity and access programs — was met with strong opposition from those who saw the works as part of Baltimore’s cultural heritage.
Museums also are being urged to present topical shows that address social justice issues. But last month, the National Gallery of Art in Washington ignited a firestorm by postponing a retrospective exhibition devoted to the influential Jewish American artist Philip Guston, in part out of concern that some of Guston’s imagery, including figures in Ku Klux Klan-like hoods, might offend audiences.
Due to open this year, the Guston exhibition — a collaboration with Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston — has been put off for at least two years. Guston, a dedicated anti-racist who influenced generations of artists, Black and otherwise, used his paintings to protest white supremacy. Thousands of people in the art world, including many prominent Black artists, signed a petition calling for the show’s reinstatement.
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