The Dana Schutz/Emmett Till controversy lives on in Boston, where the Institute of Contemporary Art has come under fire for its new exhibition of Schutz’s work. The Till painting drew protests and calls for its destruction when shown earlier this year in the Whitney Biennial. It is not included in the ICA show, and Schutz has said it will never be sold. Given the continuing controversy, it might be a very long time before it’s on public view again, if ever.In Boston, a group of local artists sent an open letter to Eva Raspini, chief curator of the ICA show, which was fully planned two years before the Whitney Biennial. They say that exhibiting any work by Schutz is “in line with a long tradition of white supremacy obscuring and ultimately erasing narratives of the continued genocide of Black and indigenous peoples.”
“Please pull the show,” the letter states. “This is not about censorship. This is about institutional accountability.” (Read the full letter here.) Yesterday, Radio Boston spoke to Raspini along with Steve Locke, an artist and associate professor of art education at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and Barbara Lewis, the director of the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black History and Culture at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
Lewis, who signed the letter, said, “If I understand it” the ICA paid little attention to that controversy and is being tone deaf to racial history in Boston. Over the course of the interview, Lewis’s comments suggest that she, in fact, doesn’t seem to understand it.
Locke, who is African American, bluntly states: “Till is dead. Nobody can hurt him anymore.” The protesters “want to impute some sort of horrible motive to [Schutz].”
“That painting is a white woman sitting in front of a canvas negotiating what a white woman did to a black child. He is dead because of a white woman and it is wholly appropriate for a white woman to take that on as subject matter,” he emphasized, adding, “Can a white artist image black painting? Of course they can. There’s no such thing as black painting, there’s just painting.”
Listen to the full interview here: