One of the highest-profile contemporary art museums in the United States has suspended an exhibition by artist Jon Rafman, a rising star in the international art scene whose work appeared last year at the Venice Biennale, after allegations of sexual misconduct appeared online last week. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. has put its Rafman show on hold, a representative for the institution confirmed to ARTnews. “The Hirshhorn is aware of the allegations and has made the decision not to move forward at this time,” the museum said in a statement.
Rafman has been accused of “emotional abuse, sexual abuse, [and] predatory behaviour” by multiple women based in Canada, the artist’s home country. The allegations were made public by the Instagram account @surviving_the_artworld last week.
The artist’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden exhibition was to open in October, and it would have been among the biggest Rafman shows ever mounted in the U.S. According to an Art Newspaper report from December, the show was to include works from Rafman’s famed project Nine Eyes of Google Street View (2008–ongoing), for which the artist lifted and collated bizarre imagery found on Google Maps’s Street View function, and Dream Journal 2016-2019, a video installation featuring computer-generated renditions of the artist’s dreams. A new virtual reality work was also to appear in the show.
Reached by email in regard to the Hirshhorn show, Rafman directed ARTnews to a statement dated July 23, in which he said that the encounters described on Instagram were “consensual,” writing, “The stories came as a shock and made me reflect on my own experience of the past. Until now, I was not informed of these grievances. I was not aware that these relationships were so upsetting for the women who came forward.”
The Hirshhorn show is not the only exhibition featuring the artist’s work that has been put on pause. Last week, the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal suspended an exhibition of the artist’s work “until further notice.” On Tuesday, after this article was published, a representative for the Kunstverein Hannover in Germany, which had planned an exhibition of Rafman’s work for the fall, said it was postponing its exhibition as well.
Rafman’s work is currently included in “Art in the Age of Anxiety,” a survey about contemporary art and tensions driven by technology now on view at the Sharjah Art Foundation. A representative for the Sharjah Art Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.
Last week, Rafman was dropped by his Montreal gallery, Bradley Ertaskiran. Sprüth Magers, a gallery with spaces in Berlin, London, and Los Angeles that represents Rafman, said in a statement, “We at Sprüth Magers have been campaigning for women’s rights for decades, and condemn all forms of institutional and individual violence against women. We listen, and will always carefully examine any allegation directed against our employees, our artists or our business partners. Therefore we are investigating this matter internally with the utmost importance.” London’s Seventeen Gallery, which also represents Rafman, did not respond to a request for comment.
Rafman’s videos, photographs, installations, and digital works typically feature material appropriated from the internet and focus on the ways that technology has altered our understandings of desire and pushed some toward violence. His work has appeared in various major surveys devoted to art after the internet and has featured in editions of prestigious biennials such as Manifesta, the Berlin Biennale, and the Sharjah Biennial. The artist designed a fashion show for Balenciaga in 2018 and has collaborated with the musician Oneohtrix Point Never.
Update 7/28/20, 10:30 a.m.: This article has been updated to include that the Kunstverein Hannover is postponing its Rafman show.