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National Academy Members Pen Open Letter in Support of Dana Schutz

Dana Schutz, Big Wave, 2016, oil on canvas.

©DANA SCHUTZ/COURTESY THE ARTIST, PETZEL, NEW YORK, AND CONTEMPORARY FINE ARTS, BERLIN/THE BARBARA LEE COLLECTION OF ART BY WOMEN

Following an open letter from Boston activists that urged the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston to cancel its current Dana Schutz survey, a group of National Academy of Art members and members-elect has penned a missive of its own in support of the artist and the exhibition. Many artists and architects, from Annabelle Selldorf to Ed Ruscha, have signed the letter, which was emailed to ARTnews last night by artist Barbara Grossman.

The National Academy letter is a direct response to a six-page outline sent to Eva Respini, the curator of the ICA show, by a group of protestors. (Megan Smith, Allison Disher, Stephanie Houten, Pampi, and Vonds DuBuisson are the authors of that letter, which appeared online last week in the form of a Google Doc.) “We were hoping to hear the ICA resist the narrative that Black people can be sacrificed for the greater good,” the artists wrote, referring to the controversy that erupted over a Schutz painting at the Whitney Biennial earlier this year.

Four months before the ICA show opened, Schutz exhibited her 2016 painting Open Casket (2016) in that Whitney show. The work, based on a photograph of Emmett Till’s open-casket funeral, created an impassioned debate about identity and art-making. Hannah Black wrote a strongly worded letter to the Biennial’s curators, Mia Locks and Christopher Y. Lew, asking the Whitney to destroy Open Casket because Schutz, who is white, had used “Black pain as raw material.” Ultimately, the painting remained on view for the Biennial’s entire run and was not destroyed.

Open Casket is not included in the ICA Boston exhibition, but the signatories of the letter consider it an important part of Schutz’s narrative. “Please pull the show,” reads the letter, which says at one point “we are unconvinced that ICA has the will to challenge the egregiousness of continued institutional backing of this type of violent artifact.”

The National Academy letter responds to that protest: “As fellow artists and architects,” it reads, “we wholeheartedly support cultural institutions like the ICA-Boston who refuse to bow to forces in favor of censorship or quelling dialogue.” The letter and its list of signatories follow in full below.

August 3, 2017

As members of the National Academy, we would like to voice our unequivocal support for Dana Schutz, who was recently excoriated by a group of Boston artists who were demanding that her current exhibition at the ICA in Boston be canceled, a demand meant to penalize Schutz, the artist behind Open Casket, a controversial painting featured at the 2017 Whitney Biennial, which draws on the well-known photograph of Emmett Till lying disfigured in his casket.

This painting is not included in the ICA exhibition.

As fellow artists and architects, we wholeheartedly support cultural institutions like the ICA-Boston who refuse to bow to forces in favor of censorship or quelling dialogue.

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 criticize in others.

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.

Sig Abeles, NA
Marina Abramovic, NA-Elect
Stan Allen, NA
Polly Apfelbaum, NA
Dotty Attie, NA
Judith Bernstein, NA-Elect
Robert Birmelin, NA
Willard Boepple, NA
Richard Bosman, NA
Gregory Botts, NA
Pau Broches, NA-Elect
Henry Casselli, NA
Walter Chatham, NA
Chuck Close, NA
William Clutz, NA
Lisa Corinne Davis, NA-Elect
Donna Dennis, NA
Jane Dickson, NA
Rackstraw Downes, NA
Jackie Ferrara, NA-Elect
Louise Fishman, NA
Andrew Ginzel, NA
Jacqueline Gourevitch, NA
Philip Grausman, NA
Barbara Grossman, NA
Richard Haas, NA
Nancy Hagin, NA
Ann Hamilton, NA
Walter Hatke, NA
Julie Heffernan, NA
Nona Hershey, NA
Diana Horowitz, NA
David Humphrey, NA
Valerie Jaudon, NA
Roberto Juarez, NA
Harriet Korman, NA
Joyce Kozloff, NA
Tuck Langland, NA
Pat Lasch, NA
Jonathan Lasker, NA
Mel Leipzig, NA
Alfred Leslie, NA
James McGarrell, NA
Melissa Meyer, NA
Raoul Middleman, NA
John Moore, NA
John Newman, NA
Catherine Opie, NA-Elect
Tom Otterness, NA
Anthony Panzera, NA
Philip Pearlstein, NA
Judy Pfaff, NA-Elect
Ed Ruscha, NA-Elect
Joseph Santore, NA
Peter Saul, NA
Dread Scott, NA-Elect
Annabelle Selldorf, NA
Arlene Shechet, NA
Laura Shechter, NA
Cindy Sherman, NA-Elect
James Siena, NA
Elena Sisto, NA
Richard Sloat, NA
Joan Snyder, NA
Gary Stephan, NA
Jessica Stockholder, NA
Immi Storrs, NA
Altoon Sultan, NA
Barbara Takenaga, NA
Claire Van Vliet, NA
Don Voisine, NA
Kara Walker, NA-Elect
Susan Jane Walp, NA
Sharon Wandel, NA
Leslie Wayne, NA
Stephen Westfall, NA
Jack Whitten, NA-Elect

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