Around 80 National Academy of Art members in the US have written a letter in support of Dana Schutz, whose painting based on a photograph of Emmett Till’s open-casket funeral sparked condemnation when it went on show at the Whitney Biennial earlier this year.
In response to this work, a group of Boston artists and activists recently called for the cancellation of Schutz’s exhibition which opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Boston last month (until 26 November). “We were hoping to hear the ICA resist the narrative that Black people can be sacrificed for the greater good,” the artists wrote in a letter to Eva Respini, the curator of Schutz’s show.
Now, artists including Marina Abramovic, Chuck Close, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman and Kara Walker have written their own letter in support of Schutz and the ICA’s decision to exhibit her work. The exhibition does not include Open Casket (2016).
“As fellow artists and architects, we wholeheartedly support cultural institutions like the ICA Boston who refuse to bow to forces in favour of censorship or quelling dialogue,” they write. “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 criticise in others.”
The ICA’s decision to go ahead with the survey of Schutz’s work came after a meeting on 20 July with members of the Boston art community including Megan Smith, Allison Disher, Stephanie Houten, Pampi, and Vonds DuBuisson.
During the meeting, they voiced their concerns over the ICA’s role in exhibiting Schutz’s work. “The ICA has the responsibility to challenge dominant narratives, the appropriation of Black pain, and their role in history as institutions and individuals uplifting imagery with the potential to incite violence”, the protesters wrote in a letter published online.
In a follow-up letter, they called again for the show to be pulled, saying: “We are unconvinced that ICA has the will to challenge the egregiousness of continued institutional backing of this type of violent artefact. People’s humanity cannot be up for debate.”
Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till elicited protest from artists and critics, including the British artist Hannah Black, who called for the Whitney to destroy Open Casket "because it is not acceptable for a white person to transmute Black suffering into profit and fun".