New York–based artist Darja Bajagić is no stranger to controversy, which is perhaps only natural. Her work includes images of women performing in pornography sourced from the Internet. The threat of violence is more than implied in her art—blood from cows appears in her canvases, and weapons are not an uncommon sight. According to Bajagić, when she studied at the Yale School of Art, Robert Storr, who was then the head of the art department, told her she was crazy and that Yale would pay for her therapy sessions.
Now Bajagić is claiming one of her works has been censored from an upcoming show in Romania. The artist announced, via a Tumblr post, that a new wall sculpture she made will not appear in an upcoming group show at Bucharest’s Galeria Nicodim. That work, titled Bucharest Molly, is a motion-activated fountain that features a woman wearing jeans that have the words HEIL HITLER written on them, and who holds a red teddy bear with a swastika on it. A small hole in the bear’s stomach oozes black liquid. According to Bajagić’s statement, Mihai Nicodim, the gallery’s owner, refused to show the sculpture, despite the fact that she didn’t even create the image—she found it online.
Although Bajagić redacts the name of the show and its curator in her statement, the artist confirmed in an email to me that she was referring to “Omul Negru,” which focuses on the aesthetics of evil and paranoia and includes a host of well-known artists, from Mike Kelley to Jamian Juliano-Villani. According to Bajagić, Aaron Moulton, an exhibition programmer at Gagosian Gallery’s Beverly Hills space and the show’s curator, reached out to the artist in March, asking if she was interested in being in “Omul Negru.” After agreeing to be a part of the show, Bajagić worked with Moulton to produce Bucharest Molly. “I was so excited about [the show], and wanted to make something especially for it,” the artist said in an email.
Asked over email why the work was removed from the show, Moulton said, “Darja Bajagić[‘s] use of the term ‘censorship’ is inaccurate. There is a changing list of 40+ works in the exhibition. ‘Censorship’ describing a show that hasn’t opened misunderstands the editorial process.” He also said that Bajagić’s claim in her statement that Philip Morris was a corporate sponsor for the show was “incorrect as they did not sponsor the exhibition. They had at one point been underwriting the opening event but had no role in the content of the exhibition. This exhibition is fully funded by Nicodim gallery.”
Bucharest Molly is currently sitting in a crate, in Bajagić’s studio, the artist said.
Bajagić’s statement appears in full below.
I wanted to personally reach out to you in regards to your decision to last-minute refuse my Bucharest Molly in ***** *******’s exhibition surveying evil–an artwork that was made directly in response to the show’s proposing text, especially for the context of this exhibition.
I had been in touch with ***** on a consistent basis since mid March, when he proposed my inclusion in the show. *****’s exact words, copied from his initial e-mail, were that the show’s aim is to be “an anthropology of the varied notions of the boogeyman,” and that “the theme is looking at the many faces and facelessness of the boogeyman and the aesthetics of paranoia and evil across a spectrum of cultural skeletons from the self and your neighbor to stereotypes and dictators” (italics added for emphasis). It appears that, regardless of your effort to silence my artistic expression and freedom, my Molly ends up to be a perfect visual rendering of *****’s proposal, meeting the limits of it, and inciting real paranoia on your end, and a kind of evil as well, in your act of censorship; faithlessness in the [full] potential of art; and your unwillingness to allow art to exist as a safe-space and vehicle for the Truth of the world.
It’s quite sad, too, that you, yourself, failed to fulfill one of your [unwritten] responsibilities as the self-appointed dictator [of this project] and contact me so to have an open dialogue about Molly. I would have been happy to share a conversation(s) with you, tell you about her in depth, and whatever else–but, assuming [it] as a result of your faint-heartedness, you didn’t. It appears obvious that you desired to leave not a single trace of your backward actions.
Of all of the artists, artworks in the show, you found quite a serious issue with Molly–why is that? Was it the swastika? Molly’s pretty, ominous face? Though I am curious to learn what it was, exactly, that irked you to such a degree, that prompted your feelings to be so hurt, I do not expect an honest reply from you, based off of your behavior(s) thus far. If your act of censorship was less a result of your feelings, more a result of your fearing the loss of a corporate sponsorship–from Philip Morris, of all corporations–I pity you equally. It wouldn’t be so bad an idea to replace my empty seat in the show with theirs: a solid representation of the boogeyman, if I do say so myself.
You choose to leave in “Germans Are a Bit Scared of Me,” a film about a Kosovar who claims to be Hitler; dirt from Gacy’s burial pit(s)–a monster who sexually assaulted and murdered at least 33 teenage boys and young men … but Bucharest Molly, a[n Internet-sourced image of a] smirking blonde, clutching a teddy bear with a swastika printed on its belly, wearing homemade-printed “Heil Hitler” jeans offends you, incites panic. Absurd, is it not?
Bucharest Molly is as much anthropology as it is art. I assume that you’ve learned of the full story [of the artwork] via *****, so it is, likely, unnecessary to repeat it, but I invite you to read the press release text for my upcoming show at the Künstlerhaus, Halle für Kunst & Medien, Graz (I’ve produced other iterations of Molly for this event),
We live in a world where more than ever lies are masqueraded as truth. Whatever the media says people blindly accept and follow without question. A world where speaking the truth could send you to prison or the cemetery. The truth isn’t popular. It’s almost always hard to swallow. One who searches for truth and the reasons for this decay will certainly find an incredible and insurmountable darkness. But the answers are there, and they are not found in any controlled media outlet. The Internet is both a trove of knowledge and a heap of garbage. But invaluable to those who are persistent in seeking the truth.
In our contemporary, global political state, seeing the overwhelming rise of the far-right, the growing, daily advocacy everywhere for hatred and intolerance, Bucharest Molly stands simply as a reflection; both a window and a mirror onto and of the world; a manifestation of the act of facing what is Real; and most importantly, as a Truth onto itself, that you, in your fright, chose to stifle. Your evil act of censorship justifies exactly what it is that Molly is reflecting. Your unwillingness to allow a light to be shone onto a looming darkness gives life to the very darkness you desired to repress.
5/31/2016, 6:35 p.m.: Post has been updated with comments from Aaron Moulton.
6/1/2016, 8:49 a.m.: In response to Moulton’s comments, Bajagić claimed in an email that the gallery offered to put her work back in the show after the artist’s statement made the rounds on Facebook. Bajagić declined this offer and has written a second statement on her Tumblr to this effect.