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UPDATED: KSU Censors Art as the Zuckerman Museum Prepares to Open

By on February 28, 2014
Detail of Ruth Stanford's installation.
Detail of Ruth Stanford's installation at the Zuckerman Museum of Art, now removed.

Detail of Ruth Stanford’s installation at the Zuckerman Museum of Art, censored by university officials. (All photos courtesy the artist.)

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.

Detail of Ruth Stanford's installation.

Detail of Ruth Stanford’s installation.

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.

 

Stanford's work during the installation.

Stanford’s work being installed.

 

6 Comments

  1. Chris Appleton

    February 28, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    On behalf of WonderRoot and the Walthall Artist Fellowship Program, we are disappointed to learn about the censorship of Ruth Stanford’s work. Simultaneously, we stand in support of and in solidarity with the staff and leadership of the Zuckerman Museum, including Director Justin Rabideau and Curator Teresa Reeves, as they continue to work for and with the artists of our region. WonderRoot believes that the arts are a conduit for dialogue and understanding about our communities’ disparate experiences. With that in mind and in preparation for our upcoming exhibition at the Zuckerman Museum of Art, WonderRoot will request a meeting with the President of Kennesaw State who, to our understanding, has made a solitary decision to remove Stanford’s work. It is our hope that this decision and its consequences will yield a constructive dialogue about the arts and the role of the arts in spheres of education.

  2. Robin Bernat

    February 28, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    Thank you Chris for taking a stand. I hope more and more people will speak out about why the KSU President’s decision is disgraceful and contrary to the notion of free expression and education. Ruth Stanford’s shining a light on something from the past that remains controversial is an important component of reconciling our past with our present. If what has happened to Ruth Stanford and her work has darkened the mood around the opening of the Zuckerman Museum, so be it. Being on the right side of an issue is more important than toasting one another.

  3. Gross

    March 1, 2014 at 5:47 am

    Dan Papp, another fearful white man who can’t face history or handle an exercise in self reflection / challenging thought.

    Sad.

  4. Lizzie Z. Saltz, ATHICA Director Emerita

    March 2, 2014 at 6:51 am

    What is weird is that these high administration folks never learn that all the BAD publicity from censorship is OH so, so much worse than potentially disturbing a donor with an artwork with a wee bit of edge to it.

    Even when it has happened at least 2X in a less than a decade right here in Georgia:

    Case #1:
    Stanley Bermudez Moros’s painting ‘Heritage?’
    This large oik painting was removed from the Biennial Faculty Exhibition at Gainesville State College in January 2011 by Martha T. Nesbitt, yes again, a university PRESIDENT, by her physically! (It was a large Dixie Flag with lynching imagery…funny there’s that upsetting historical boogeyman again!)
    Result, censure in Chron of Higher Ed by Barnard College President Ellen Futter among MANY, many others.

    http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/archives/45401/

    http://www.thefire.org/cases/gainesville-state-college-president-censors-faculty-art-critical-of-confederate-heritage/

    http://www.thefire.org/gainesville-state-college-censors-faculty-artwork-critical-of-confederate-past/

    Case #2:
    Bill Fischer & Richard Lou’s ‘Missing Stereotypes’
    Wow, remember this nearly identical case in 2005 at the Quinlan Art Center in Gainesville? This one, also racial, hit AP/ USA today, becasue of a Board Member being related to celebrity mocked in the piece (!), big-time bad press!
    Ironically that show was called Celebración!, the same word the Kennesaw President invoked in the Stanford artwork case!

    So beware of mandatory cheeriness my cultural worker comrades, and enjoy this read on the Bill Fischer-Richard Lou Missing Stereotypes flap (scroll down for the printed tortillas!)

    http://www.billfisher.dreamhosters.com/missingstereotypes.html

    (And Yes, for those with good memories, Athens Institute for Contemporary Art, by lucky coincidence had an exhibit on Race in 2005, and could take on the rejected Lou piece almost immediately after the counter-protest, and then in 2012 had an exhibit on southern isues and showed Bermudez’s piece just a few months after!)

    Oh and support the National Coalition Agsinst Censorship which provides artists and organizations with legal advice in these cases:
    http://www.ncac.org

  5. Trish

    March 2, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    I had a question about the books whose pages were shredded. Where did the books come from? Did the artist own them? Are they copies from the 1st editions? I’m just curious…as I’d like to find copies of the books.
    Thanks

  6. Ruth

    March 4, 2014 at 3:09 am

    Hi Everyone – THANK YOU for all the support.
    Trish – the books are originals, but not first editions as far asa I know. They all came from Abebooks or ebay and cost anywhere from $3.00-$40.00 each. Most were in the 8-15 range. CH was a very popular author, so they aren’t rare books. Several are even available for free via google books.

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