A 39-foot-tall Jared Madere installation was removed last week from the atrium of Liberty London, a department store that sells clothing, fabrics, beauty supplies, and home goods in the British capital’s West End neighborhood. The work, titled Unconditional Love (2017), had been part of a show called “The Dark Side of Liberty” that opened on July 6. Curated by Victor Benady, that exhibition also included works by Julie Verhoeven, Architecture Social Club, Joris Van De Moortel, and Alex Morrison, some of which were also removed or canceled. In each case, the works were taken down suddenly and under mysterious circumstances, and without precise explanations from Liberty.
Madere, as well as several artists involved in the show, were largely kept in the dark about why the work was removed. Benady and others took to social media last week to note that the work had been on view for less than two days before it was taken down. This was “for reasons that have yet to be explained to us,” Benady wrote in a Facebook post on July 6. Later that day, he wrote of the work’s removal, “It’s scandalous.”
Unconditional Love features a newborn child crying for the first time after exiting the womb. Its tears are bumblebees that flew into a pool of water. Around it is a colorful bricolage of layered images; a picture of an old woman lingers above the baby. In its London presentation, strings of 4,000 flowers and 40,000 bells hung behind the work. Like other installations by Madere (one memorably appeared at the Whitney Museum in 2015), the large piece was conceived with its site in mind—it hung from Liberty’s ceiling and was clearly visible from balconies around the store. (Noting that the matter had legal implications, Benady and Madere declined to comment on the removal of his work.)
Asked why the work was removed, Mark Forsyth, Liberty’s head of brand communications, forwarded a statement to ARTnews on behalf of the department store. “Liberty London is delighted to have launched ‘The Dark Side of Liberty’ summer art exhibition. Reluctantly due to technical issues two of the works will no longer be on display as previously advertised,” the statement read. “However, customers can still enjoy the works by the other artists both in the windows and around the store. We would like to thank all the artists involved for their hard work and commitment to this project.” Verhoeven’s work is now covered by blinds, and the lights have been turned off on the Van De Moorel installation.
Madere’s work was to be shown alongside other sculptures and installations that drew inspiration from Pink Floyd’s music, in an exhibition about darkness in a digital world. The show had been partly funded by the British rock band, which was also not immediately made aware of the works’ removal. “Liberty London has always had a dark side, a gothic English intelligence; we look for the unique, the weird and the wonderful in everything we do,” Liz Silvester, Liberty’s head of visual identity, said in a WWD article about “The Dark Side of Liberty” earlier this month. (That article featured a picture of Unconditional Love as its lead image.)
Van De Moortel’s work, See Liberty Play, was also partially unrealized because a performance element was abruptly canceled. Andrew Bennett, a performer in the piece, forwarded to ARTnews an email he wrote to Silvester that reads in part:
“We were told various spurious reasons for the performance not being allowed were down to health and safety, (this should have been in place beforehand) the noise vibrations affecting the building and most farcical of all that the neighbouring display contained a baby that offended your head buyer. This neighbouring display had absolutely zero to do with us so how this could possibly be a legitimate reason for banning us from performing I have no idea.”
According to David Lewis, the founder of the eponymous New York gallery that represents Madere, extensive plans for Unconditional Love had been submitted to Liberty prior to installation. “I don’t understand what happened because all the images were approved by the people at Liberty,” Lewis told ARTnews in a phone conversation last week. “I’m still learning.” Images of Madere’s work were also available on Liberty London’s website, but they have since been deleted.
Asked what would now happen to the work, Lewis said he was unsure. “We’re going to look for somewhere else to show it, or we’ll ship it to New York,” he said. “It would have to be reformatted.” Unconditional Love’s size prevents it from being easily shown elsewhere—it was specifically designed to meet the proportions of Liberty London’s atrium. No other venue is currently slated to show Madere’s installation.