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Dana Schutz
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Cindy Sherman & Marina Abramović condemn Dana Schutz protest

78 prominent artists have written a letter of support for Schutz, whose ‘Open Casket’ artwork was condemned for racial insensitivity and who faces calls to cancel her ICA show

A collective of Boston-based artists and activists called for Dana Schutz’s latest exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art to be cancelled last week. Earlier this year, Schutz’s painting based on an image of Emmett Till’s body – a 14-year-old Black boy who was lynched in 1955 – at the Whitney Biennial faced widespread backlash for its racial insensitivity.

As the Art Newspaper reports, the letter from the Boston group, which addressed curator Eva Respini, said: “We were hoping to hear the ICA resist the narrative that Black people can be sacrificed for the greater good.”

“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 detailed. The exhibition has since gone ahead, with plans to run until November.

The artwork takes from a photograph of Till’s body at his funeral, which was published nationally at the wish of his mother. Till was wrongfully accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi, and was brutally murdered by white men, who were later acquitted despite their horrific bragging. The image was a major inspiration for the civil rights movement. Though this latest exhibit does not include “Open Casket” (2016), the group want to see the Institute make a stand against the co-opting of Black stories and pain by white people. Earlier this year, artists including Hannah Black, Juliana Huxtable and Emmanuel Olunkwa protested the artwork when it was displayed in New York.

78 members of the National Academy, including Marina Abramovic, Cindy Sherman, Chuck Close and Kara Walker, have now written a letter of support for Schutz and the ICA. 

“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 wrote. “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 letter concluded: “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.”

As Jezebel details, many of the high-profile artists on the letter of support have also been criticised for exploitation and insensitivity, like Abramovic’s 2014 performance with nude unpaid volunteers. The letter also includes the support of Kara Walker, who has been both celebrated and criticised for her divisive, emotionally-layered depictions of slavery.

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