An exhibition of African-American self-taught artists and graffiti muralists, organized by the beleaguered American Folk Art Museum in New York, has been canceled by exhibition sponsor Benetton. The show was scheduled for June 1-30, to coincide with the opening of the Venice Biennale.
“Vision and Vernacular: Eight African American Artists in Venice” was to have been held at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a property owned by the Benetton Group near the Rialto Bridge. Curated by Carlo McCormick and Martha V. Henry, it would have featured works by Outsider artists Lonnie Holley, Mr. Imagination (Gregory Warmack), Charles Lucas and Kevin Sampson, and site-specific murals by street artists Blade (Steven Ogburn), Daze (Chris Ellis), Quik (Lin Felton) and Sharp (Aaron Goodstone).
According to a Benetton spokesperson, the 13th-century Fondaco dei Tedeschi has been unoccupied for many years and “due to its condition, we were unable to obtain the necessary permits, certifications, and finish the modifications necessary to insure the safety of the crowds expected for this exhibition. The project has been postponed to the reopening of the Fondaco after its renovation by Rem Koolhaus.” Plans call for the structure to become a retail and exhibition space.
Benetton told A.i.A. that the cancellation is “in no way related to the American Folk Art Museum” and that it hopes to mount an identical exhibition in the future. The fashion house was sponsoring the exhibition, offering the space to the museum for free, and providing exhibition support and an opening-night party.
Reached by phone, McCormick told A.i.A. that Benetton and the Folk Art Museum “bickered every step of the way.” Though the reasons for the cancellation were unclear, McCormick suspected it had to do with who would pay for what. He was notified of the cancellation yesterday.
Museum director Maria Ann Conelli stressed to A.i.A. that “it was solely Benetton’s decision to suspend the show.” She said, “The museum, curators and artists were all surprised by this turn of events, especially since we were ready to open on June 1.”
The museum has been in financial straits, and has not made payments on the $30 million it still owes for its $32-million building, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, which opened in 2001 next to MoMA on 53rd Street.
As reported in the New York Times on Feb. 22, the museum entered into a forbearance agreement with ACA Financial Guaranty last summer. That agreement expires on June 30, with payment due in July. The museum’s financial statements for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, reflect a deficit of $3.6 million. Conelli told the Times in February that the institution had a balanced budget for this fiscal year.
The Venice exhibition had a budget of upwards of $400,000, much of which was provided by individual donors and foundations, including the Ford Foundation.
* An earlier version of this article reported in the first paragraph that the Folk Art Museum canceled this exhibition. The exhibition was canceled by the Benetton Group.