Call to action: Sign the petition to request the reinstallation of Ruth Stanford’s artwork.
As the much-anticipated Zuckerman Museum of Art at Kennesaw State University prepares to open tomorrow evening, museum staffers are having to deal with a case of censorship. BURNAWAY has received word that a commissioned artwork was removed yesterday following a walk-through by KSU president Daniel Papp, who reportedly became “irate” when he encountered Ruth Stanford’s installation, which was commissioned for the inaugural exhibition.
According to Stanford, who began working on the project in February 2013, Zuckerman staff negotiated arduously with Papp’s office to resolve the matter, to no avail. Museum officials were told that the opening would be canceled if the piece were not removed.
Stanford’s installation is based on the 56-acre Corra Harris homestead in Bartow County, just north of Cartersville, which was donated to KSU in 2008 by businessman Jodie Hill. Harris was a prominent turn-of-the-century writer whose career was launched by an 1899 letter to the editor of The Independent titled “A Southern Woman’s View,” in which she defends the Southern practice of lynching in response to an editorial decrying the murder of Sam Hose. “It’s a racist, ugly, and painful letter,” says Stanford.
When the land was given to KSU, there was controversy over its preserving the legacy of a racist individual.
The piece “is really about how we respond to places over time,” says Stanford, who describes Harris’s letter as a complicated. “She wrote a number of problematic pieces throughout her career, but also some poetic and beautiful things.”
The installation includes vitrines containing books by the author with their shredded pages seeming to pour from them, some 19th-century and Paleolithic artifacts found on the Harris property, photographs in which Harris has been redacted, a schlieren video of air currents in a chapel on the property, and a vinyl topographic wall map overlaid with text.
Museum director Justin Rabideau and curator Teresa Bramlette Reeves, both artists, declined to comment. The University responded to requests for information with this statement:
The opening of the Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art (ZMA) at Kennesaw State University is an exciting event for the University and the State of Georgia. As such, it is appropriate that the exhibits on display at the opening of the museum celebrate the sculptures of Ruth Zuckerman, the permanent holdings of KSU’s own art collection, and site-specific works.
Yesterday, during a preview tour of the ZMA, concerns were raised that the subject matter of one exhibit, Ruth Stanford’s piece “A Walk in the Valley,” did not align with the celebratory atmosphere of the Museum’s opening. We therefore made the difficult decision to remove the exhibit for display at a more appropriate later time.
The fallout has already begun. Artist Christopher Chambers says that members of the current crop of Walthall Artist Fellows, whose exhibition is slated to open at the Zuckerman on May 17, are discussing how and whether to address the issue. “I don’t want to appear to support the administration’s decision,” he says.
At this writing, Stanford still planned to attend the opening. “There are so many good artists and works in the show,” she says.