Not showing art

Museums around the country are showing their disagreement with the immigration policies of the Trump administration by not showing art. NYC’s Museum of Modern Art has replaced all of the art in one of its chronological survey galleries with works by artists from the 7 countries covered by the original ban.   The impact comes with the interruption of the art movements.    Other museums are emphasizing the administration’s holistic antipathy to immigration by shrouding painting and sculpture by artists who immigrated to the United States.   This protest has some shock value, especially for those did not remember that most Colonial and Federal-era painters were immigrants. Visitors in many communities were shocked when so many portraits of the founding fathers were shrouded.

For me, the shrouding of art evokes Day Without Art, an international art world protest for December 1, World AIDS Day. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, where I worked until my very recent retirement, started recognizing the day with lists of names – printed on corridor galleries or in small booklets, hand-bound with red ribbon.  We lost a number of staff members and frequent visitors and the mourning/protest of individual names seemed most appropriate.   As the pandemic continued, we chose to collaborate  with Visual AIDS and the performing arts community. We participated in the shrouding, closed galleries completely or hung banners on gallery glass walls. The participation varied depending on the subjects of the Fall exhibitions. Anything in the mid- to late-20th century performing arts, especially, exhibitions on large numbers of individuals, such as photo shows, became shrines to the identified and sorely missed. I rejected the alternative practice of removing the art or reversing it, to avoid reference to the 19th century practice of “turning a frame to the wall.”That meant not a death in the family, but the rejection of a family member.

My e-mail signature, like so many museum staff, promotes current exhibitions. This Spring, it promotes a exhibitions that celebrate an immigrant. Currently, my signature guides e-mail receivers to the Lincoln Center Boro-linc presentation of our The Genius of Geoffrey Holder, which is spending the Spring at the Jamaica (Queens) Center for Arts and Learning.    That Queens institution is the part of the borough that has a large West Indian community. You may not recognize the name, but apart from all of the other credits, he directed and designed The Wiz. The artist/actor/choreographer/painter and costume designer is also featured in 40 Years of Firsts, our exhibition/collaboration with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and California African American Museum – currently on view at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle.



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