On Friday, artist Neïl Beloufa removed from his exhibition at Palais de Tokyo in Paris an image of the artist Parker Bright protesting Dana Schutz’s painting Open Casket (2016) last year at the Whitney Biennial. Beloufa’s decision came after Bright began raising money through a Gofundme campaign to travel to Paris, where he said he would protest the exhibition and aim to have a conversation with Beloufa and the show’s curator, Guillaume Désanges. Beloufa with Désanges sent a letter apologizing to Bright, who told ARTnews he remains unsatisfied with the response and is seeking clarification and a public apology from the institution.
Bright made headlines last year when he appeared in front of Schutz’s painting at the Whitney Biennial, where he was photographed wearing a grey T-shirt that, on its back, read “BLACK DEATH SPECTACLE.” Schutz was criticized last year for capitalizing on trauma experienced by black Americans—her painting depicted a version of the famous photograph of the open-casket funeral of the black teenager Emmett Till, who was killed in 1955 in Mississippi after a white woman said he offended her. A letter by artist Hannah Black calling for the painting’s removal followed Bright’s protest, and it went on to ignite a national debate about who has the right to portray certain images.
In a statement on Gofundme, Bright, who is based in New York, says that the money will allow him to travel to Paris, where Beloufa’s show, titled “L’Ennemi de mon ennemi,” opened on Friday. Previously included in the project was a mirror that featured an appropriated picture of Bright protesting the Schutz work, with his back turned to the viewer. Reflected in the mirror was an image of the Schutz painting.
“I would like to stage another protest inside the Palais de Tokyo in Paris where Beloufa’s piece is on display because I believe that Beloufa is appropriating my narrative without consent,” Bright wrote in the description of his Gofundme campaign, which had raised more than $2,300 by Sunday morning in New York. “This is a form of defamation of me as an artist and arts activist.” The money he has raised will go toward airfare, museum admission, lodging, and helping “find ways to reclaim my image and the work that I put forth last year.” Although the image is no longer part of the show, Bright is still moving forward with his plan.
L’Ennemi de mon ennemi, a project by Neïl Beloufa, commissioned by Palais de Tokyo. #neïlbeloufa @beloufastandfurious #guillaumedesanges #awesomeproject #foodforthought #Discorde #newseason #palaisdetokyo @palaisdetokyo . . Neïl’s project consists of a scenographic dispositive that represents a chaotic and fragmented vision of the ways in which history is written and in which power is legitimized in the contemporary era. Drawing inspiration from official communication, memorials, museums of war, and political propaganda as well as contemporary events, advertising, and video games, the exhibition explores the interchangeability of strategies and discourses. In doing so, it plays upon the permanent ambiguity between good and evil, heroes and villains, postures and impostures. The scenographic dispositive, specially created by the artist for this exhibition, integrates works of art, documents, images, artefacts, reproductions and objects that are constantly moved around by robotic elements according to an algorithmic programme. The dispositive thus allows for a constant reappraisal of possible associations, perspectives and meanings.
Beloufa’s show deals with the ways history gets written and how power structures affect our daily lives. It is the French artist’s second solo exhibition at the museum. According to a text written by Désanges, “L’Ennemi de mon ennemi,” or “The Enemy of My Enemy,” is intended to function as something akin to a search engine. It includes Beloufa’s artworks, as well as pieces by others, and it “does not propose any clarification or answers, but rather sheds a light on the aberration of the complexity of value systems, where commitments to esthetics and morality are constantly blurred.” On the Palais de Tokyo’s website, artists Camille Blatrix, Ellen Cantor, Thomas Hirschhorn, Pablo Picasso, Pope.L, and Hito Steyerl are among those thanked for their participation.
The mirror object that includes Bright’s image was “not an artwork,” according to Beloufa and Désanges. It was not for sale, they said, and though it was contextualized within the project by information about Bright’s action at the Whitney Biennial, it was one of several images, texts, and ideas “reproduced, mostly without permission.” They wrote, “Sorry, we should have talked to you. And it is too late. . . . It was part of the accumulation of medias, informations, documentations and reproductions we’ve put together to open the conversation about the complexity of the relation between art form and power representation—about domination strategies and counter strategies from every field and country.” They added that the process of sourcing their material is inevitably “problematic and bound to fail.”
In an email to ARTnews, Bright confirmed that he had received Beloufa and Désanges’s email, but said that it was not clear enough which parts of the work were removed and that Beloufa’s use of his image was not dissimilar to the way Schutz used Till’s image as “raw material.” “From the message that Beloufa sent me this morning, I find it very peculiar that his work inside of an art institution, under the scope of the work being a part of an art exhibition, is ‘not art,’ according to Beloufa,” Bright said in an email yesterday. “I find that to be a huge contradiction that negates any accountability. If the work is not an ‘artwork,’ then what is it, then?”
He continued, “I am looking to receive a public apology from the artist and the Palais de Tokyo because a personal email admitting that I was right about my accusations and not clarifying if the entire installation that included me was removed is not acceptable. Beloufa and the Palais de Tokyo should have both understood that the appropriation and co-opting of my likeness and work as well as the admittance that they took other works without permission is a very violent and privileged act that silences and flattens voices.”
The Palais de Tokyo has not yet responded to requests for comment.