After #MeToo, UK Gallery Removes Nymphs Painting, Denies Censorship

In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative Scotland funding; and a Serpentine Pavilion for Beijing

John William Waterhouse, Hylas and the Nymphs, 1896. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

John William Waterhouse, Hylas and the Nymphs, 1896. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

John William Waterhouse, Hylas and the Nymphs, 1896. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

The UK’s Manchester Art Gallery has removed John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs (1896) from public display, alongside postcard reproductions of the work in its shop. The artwork, which shows an encounter between the mythological Argonaut character Hylas and a group of nymphs, was taken down from the gallery walls last Friday. A notice was left in the gallery explaining that the vacant space was intended ‘to prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection’. Visitors to the gallery were encouraged to leave their opinions on Post-it notes. Waterhouse’s painting was hung in a gallery called ‘In Pursuit of Beauty’, largely devoted to late 19th century paintings of female nudes. 'This gallery presents the female body as either a ‘passive decorative form’ or a ‘femme fatale’,' the gallery said on its website: 'Let’s challenge this Victorian fantasy!' According to the gallery, the removal of the artwork is linked to an upcoming solo show by artist Sonia Boyce. Manchester Art Gallery curator Clare Gannaway suggested that the recent #MeToo debates had influenced the decision to remove the painting. Writing on the gallery’s website, Gannaway said it was not about censorship: 'It’s about challenging the outdated and damaging stories this whole part of the gallery is still telling through the contextualizing and interpretation of collection displays.’ The removal of the Waterhouse painting follows heated debate last December over a petition, signed by thousands of people, demanding that New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art remove Balthus’s Thérèse Dreaming (1938).

The departure of Laura Raicovich from her role as president and executive director of New York’s Queens Museum, after irreconcilable differences between the museum's board and her political commitments, has triggered an open letter defending her leadership. 'In times of political polarization, arts institutions must fully commit to our responsibility to act as empathetic forums', the letter states. 'We call on the boards of our cultural institutions to embrace the civic role of our institutions by supporting and empowering courageous and caring leaders such as Laura Raicovich, regardless of their gender. This is more necessary now than at any other point since the civil rights era in the 1950s and 1960s.’ The letter was started by Carin Kuoni, director and chief curator of the New School’s Vera List Center for Art and Politics. Signatories include Helen Molesworth, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and Mary Ceruti, executive director and chief curator of SculptureCenter, New York. In an email to frieze, Kuoni said that she had initiated the letter not only because of the specific events at the Queens Museum, 'but just as importantly as a (modest) way to counter the increasingly pernicious ways in which vibrant and vital discussion and debates around political issues are curtailed under the current administration in D.C. and the effects this has on cultural institutions.' In a separate email to frieze, Ceruti said: 'At this moment, communities in the United States feel vulnerable to rising threats of nationalism and xenophobia. Racial tensions are as high as they have been in decades’. It was in this atmosphere, Ceruti said, that 'Laura championed artists and art and offered programmes that helped to establish the museum as a space where diverse perspectives and populations are welcome and for that she should be supported and lauded'. Commenting on the letter, Ceruti told frieze that it 'should be read as a call to cultural leaders, including museum directors and boards, not to be passive in the face of divisiveness and fear mongering but active and engaged with cross-cultural dialogues’. As we reported earlier this week, Raicovich’s tenure at the museum has been troubled, and included a public backlash last year over her refusal to let the museum be used by Israeli officials to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding (the museum later backed down). Other points of disagreement between Raicovich and the board included the director’s decision to close the museum to participate in a day of anti-Trump protests, and her vision of the institution as a ‘sanctuary’ for immigrants. 

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Glasgow’s artist-run Transmission Gallery has responded to news that it will have its regular funding from Creative Scotland withdrawn. The public funding body dropped Transmission from its list of organizations that would receive regular funding for 2018-21. The gallery said that it was dismayed by the decision: 'This withdrawal of support severely compromises the future of the gallery and comes at a devastating time given the recent demographics and aspirations of the space.’ The gallery has received several statements in support, including Matthew Higgs, director of New York’s White Columns, who wrote on Instagram that the 'irrational decision of Creative Scotland to suspend its regular funding is both baffling and depressing.'

The gallerist couple, Iranian-American Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife (who holds US permanent residency) Afarin Neyssari, have received long-term prison sentences in Iran, according to the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. They founded Aun Gallery in Tehran in 2009, billed as the ‘first privately-owned art space designed and built to showcase contemporary art’. Vafadari was sentenced to 27 years, and Neyssari for 16 years, for charges ranging from espionage to hosting parties in which alcohol was served even though as Zoroastrians, they are not bound to Islamic law regarding alcohol and mixed gender encounters, according to the country’s constitution. Vafadari has also been sentenced to 124 lashes, a fine of USD$243,000 and the confiscation of all his assets. They were arrested in Tehran in July 2016 by Iran's Revolutionary Gards. 

London’s Serpentine Gallery is to build a pavilion in Beijing, with Sichuan-based Jiakun architects signed up to design the project in the capital’s Wangfujing district. It is scheduled to launch in May and run until October, as part of the WF Central property development. The design of the pavilion draws on Confucian principles, in 'a physical representation of the traditional pursuit of Junzi’ according to the developers. The Beijing project is part of the Serpentine’s series of temporary pavilions – although several original London pavilions have subsequently relocated abroad, this will be the first pavilion debuted outside of London.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art has had its proposal for a second campus approved by the city council, granting a 35-year lease in order to take over a disused building in the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, to hold exhibitions and community projects. The museum commented: 'We have been working with community organizations, schools and teachers, and community members for many months and look forward to collaboratively developing dynamic arts education programmes.’ Lately, Los Angeles has seen heightened clashes between art projects and housing activists, as a consequence of the city’s serious housing crisis and art’s alleged gentrifying effect on working class neighbourhoods – most recently with protesters targeting the artist Laura Owens and her nonprofit space 356 Mission Road.

Vandals have targeted Olu Oguibe’s Monument to Strangers and Refugees (2017), currently situated in Kassel’s Königsplatz and featured in last year’s documenta 14 exhibition. A man was arrested drunk at the scene, and claimed that his actions were politically motivated, according to reports in the local press. The city of Kassel and the Nigerian-born American artist recently launched a fundraising campaign to keep his sculpture in the city. The artwork, which carries a verse from Matthew 25:35 – ‘I was a stranger and you took me in’ translated into multiple languages – has become an obsession for far-right politicians in the country, with an Alternative für Deutschland member calling it ‘ideologically polarizing, deformed art’ last year.

Ireland’s EVA International has announced the final artist list for its 38th edition which opens on 14 April 2018. It will be curated by Inti Guerrero, with a theme influenced by the painting Night Candles are Burnt Out (1927) by Sean Keating, which takes as its subject a hydroelectric dam built in 1925 in Ireland, Ardnacrusha. Artists include Lee Bul, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Trevor Yeung. See the full list here.

In gallery news: New York’s celebrated Broadway 1602 gallery has filed for bankruptcy – the gallery launched in 2005, and included important shows by Alina Szapocznikow and Edward Krasinksi over its 12 years in operation; in 2016, it moved from the Garment District to the city’s Upper East Side, as well as to East Harlem, and is the latest in the series of mid-sized galleries in New York which have closed in recent years. New York’s Paula Cooper Gallery is representing the estate of the Pictures generation artist Sarah Charlesworth (the estate will contionue to work with Maccarone gallery, and Campoli Presti). Berlin’s Galerie Max Hetzler now represents Adam Pendleton (who will continue to show with Pace, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Shane Campbell and Galeria Pedro Cera). And Chicago's Rhona Hoffman Gallery is moving from West Loop to the city's West Town district.

And the latest cultural centre to hit the Gulf is the Misk Art Institute. The new arts hub was announced this week by the Saudi artist Ahmed Mater, who has been named director of the institution. The arts hub will be part of the Saudi Arabia crown prince’s educational and cultural Misk Foundation.

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