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National Academy of Art Members Rally Behind Dana Schutz

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—After the controversy over artist Dana Schutz’s Open Casket painting of Emmett Till followed her from the Whitney Biennial in New York to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Marina Abramović, Cindy Sherman, Ed Ruscha, and Dread Scott, as well as around seventy other members and members-elect of the National Academy of Art, penned an open letter in support of the artist and the ICA for staging a ten-year survey of her works.

The letter was written in response to protests by a group of local artists, activists, and community members in the Boston area who demanded that the ICA shut down the exhibition in their own letterdated July 25 and addressed to chief curator Eva Respini and her team. It reads: “Even though [Open Casket] will not be shown, even in its absence, backing its artist without accountability nor transparency about proceeds from the exhibition, the institution will be participating in condoning the co-opting of Black pain and showing the art world and beyond that people can co-opt sacred imagery rooted in oppression and face little consequence, contributing to and perpetuating centuries-old racist iconography that ultimately justifies state and socially sanctioned violence on Black people.”

The National Academy members condemned the idea of penalizing an artist over an artwork. The letter, which was released on August 3 and has been circulating via e-mail, states: “It is of the utmost importance to us that artists not perpetrate upon each other the same kind of intolerance and tyranny that we criticize in others. We support the ICA-Boston and its decision to exhibit the works of Dana Schutz, and to maintain programming that fosters conversations between people with different points of view, especially given our current political climate of intolerance.”

Open Casket first created waves in the art world when a small-scale protest took place in front of the painting, which depicts the disfigured corpse of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old African American boy who was brutally beaten and killed in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman in a store in 1955. The controversy escalated when artist Hannah Black wrote a letter, which was signed by dozens of artists and writers, urging the curators of the Biennial to take down the work and destroy it. The work has since sparked intense public debate about the representation of African Americans in art and the appropriation of black culture by non-black artists.

 

 

The full letter released by the National Academy reads:

August 3, 2017

As members of the National Academy, we would like to voice our unequivocal support for Dana Schutz, who was recently excoriated by a group of Boston artists who were demanding that her current exhibition at the ICA in Boston be canceled, a demand meant to penalize Schutz, the artist behind Open Casket, a controversial painting featured at the 2017 Whitney Biennial, which draws on the well-known photograph of Emmett Till lying disfigured in his casket.

This painting is not included in the ICA exhibition.

As fellow artists and architects, we wholeheartedly support cultural institutions like the ICA-Boston who refuse to bow to forces in favor of censorship or quelling dialogue.

It is also of the utmost importance to us that artists not perpetrate upon each other the same kind of intolerance and tyranny that we criticize in others.

We support the ICA-Boston and its decision to exhibit the works of Dana Schutz, and to maintain programming that fosters conversations between people with different points of view, especially given our current political climate of intolerance.

Sig Abeles, NA 
Marina Abramović, NA-Elect 
Stan Allen, NA 
Polly Apfelbaum, NA 
Dotty Attie, NA 
Judith Bernstein, NA-Elect 
Robert Birmelin, NA 
Willard Boepple, NA 
Richard Bosman, NA 
Gregory Botts, NA 
Pau Broches, NA-Elect 
Henry Casselli, NA 
Walter Chatham, NA 
Chuck Close, NA 
William Clutz, NA 
Lisa Corinne Davis, NA-Elect 
Donna Dennis, NA 
Jane Dickson, NA 
Rackstraw Downes, NA 
Jackie Ferrara, NA-Elect 
Louise Fishman, NA 
Andrew Ginzel, NA 
Jacqueline Gourevitch, NA 
Philip Grausman, NA 
Barbara Grossman, NA 
Richard Haas, NA 
Nancy Hagin, NA 
Ann Hamilton, NA 
Walter Hatke, NA 
Julie Heffernan, NA 
Nona Hershey, NA 
Diana Horowitz, NA 
David Humphrey, NA 
Valerie Jaudon, NA 
Roberto Juarez, NA 
Harriet Korman, NA 
Joyce Kozloff, NA 
Tuck Langland, NA 
Pat Lasch, NA 
Jonathan Lasker, NA 
Mel Leipzig, NA 
Alfred Leslie, NA 
James McGarrell, NA 
Melissa Meyer, NA 
Raoul Middleman, NA 
John Moore, NA 
John Newman, NA 
Catherine Opie, NA-Elect 
Tom Otterness, NA 
Anthony Panzera, NA 
Philip Pearlstein, NA 
Judy Pfaff, NA-Elect 
Ed Ruscha, NA-Elect 
Joseph Santore, NA 
Peter Saul, NA 
Dread Scott, NA-Elect 
Annabelle Selldorf, NA 
Arlene Shechet, NA 
Laura Shechter, NA 
Cindy Sherman, NA-Elect 
James Siena, NA 
Elena Sisto, NA 
Richard Sloat, NA 
Joan Snyder, NA 
Gary Stephan, NA 
Jessica Stockholder, NA 
Immi Storrs, NA 
Altoon Sultan, NA 
Barbara Takenaga, NA 
Claire Van Vliet, NA 
Don Voisine, NA 
Kara Walker, NA-Elect 
Susan Jane Walp, NA 
Sharon Wandel, NA 
Leslie Wayne, NA 
Stephen Westfall, NA 
Jack Whitten, NA-Elect

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August 9, 2017