Burnaway > Feature > “Trumped Up” Curator Strikes Back

“Trumped Up” Curator Strikes Back

Phillip Kremer, Banger, digital print.
Phillip Kremer, Banger, digital print.

In response to our review of “Trumped Up” at Gallery Luperca, the exhibition curator e-mailed the author, Erica Ciccarone, taking her to task on a number of points.  She thought his comments were insightful and well-stated, and suggested he publish it as a Letter to the Editor. BURNAWAY offers Robert Scobey’s letter, with his permission, as an open dialogue.

All art is symptomatic of its social landscape and context. Just as your review and your preview and your pre-judgment of this show on Twitter are and were. “Raising concerns” can be careless. Why not take these concerns to their conclusions?

The review is certainly thoughtful and commendable at times. But I do find your framing of the show (the first three paragraphs primarily) to be deeply flawed.

Firstly, you bemoan a politically complacent Nashville art scene and feign surprise at the prospect of a show that could potentially “engage beyond usual limits.” Yet, you fail to mention that you took to Twitter just days after our call was released and called it “lame.” How can you criticize an exhibition for not living up to these standards when you are contributing to the problem you claim this show has the capacity to solve? How many artists of color follow you on Twitter? How many artists of color saw your tweet? How many artists of color failed to respond as a result? How many artists of color care about Donald Trump? I have answers to none of these questions. But I feel they ought to be addressed if you want to make these sorts of claims.

Secondly, I take issue with being called “irresponsible” for not possessing ethnicity data regarding the artists who responded to our open call. Open call shows are experimental by nature. As a curator, I cannot know on the front end precisely how an open call exhibition will look until after work is submitted. I’ve never heard of an open call that asked artists to provide ethnicity data. This is an art show, not a census. I might take the comment as fair if I were curating a show that claimed to be about “Trump and Race” or “Trump and Religion” or “Trump and Immigration.” Racism and religion and fascism and machismo and misogyny and bullying and free speech and foreign policy are all aspects that emerge from the work, because Trump offends many. If you think there is a story about the diversity or lack thereof among the exhibition’s participants, then by all means, research the artists and make a case. Their names are listed in the documentation. Is it irresponsible that I also don’t know the gender of all of the applicants, or their political affiliation, or their religion? If so, what then should a responsible art show application look like? Should artists submit headshots along with their work? If you’ve ever organized an open call exhibition before, you might know that artists often submit work under pseudonyms because they prefer to remain anonymous. If you would like to know more about the artists, their personal stories, or their other artwork, look them up. From a curatorial standpoint, I have to allow the work submitted to speak for itself in the absence its author. I would argue that Twitter-bashing an open call before any work has been submitted is grossly irresponsible and also unprofessional. Furthermore, why should I entrust you with any of the artists’ private information if you might carelessly post it on Twitter and give Trump goons someone else to target?  [Note: the review author did not ask the curator for the artists’ contact information but only their race/ethnicity and city of residence.]

Thirdly, you use a number of open-ended (and mostly negative) phrases like “misses the mark,” “falls short,” etc. yet, you do not identify what exactly these marks or aspirations are to which you refer. It’s fine with me if you want to have your Freudian superego tickled each time you set foot in an art gallery, but it’s important for anyone viewing art to address it on its own terms. This show always claimed to be about ridiculing Trump. As such, it could easily be placed in historical context of political cartoons and even early pornography … low art, if you will. The show’s overarching theme was the superficiality and emptiness of Trump and his candidacy. What mark is it missing? It is missing the mark of the show you wanted it to be. Of what is it falling short? It is falling short of the thing that you hoped to see but did not identify. This is also not meaningful critique. It is confirmation of the bias you had regarding this exhibition from day one, before you viewed any of the work.

Fourthly: the artists “address the theme from a place of comfort, as if they are sharing a secret that most of America just doesn’t understand.” What does that mean? Anybody could say that about every single art show ever, and it would still sort of make sense. What exactly are you trying to say in this context? There was very little about this show that felt comfortable. I’m reminded of an Israeli man at the closing reception who mentioned that someone would be shot in his country if they organized a show like this one. Or of the person who asked me if I was afraid of Trump suing me … or that time we wondered if we should hire security at the opening … or of Elizabeth Warren’s recent comment that the only way to deal with bullies is to stand up and punch back.

What do you think? We welcome comments below. 

Homepage: Image of Donald Trump [not included in “Trumped Up”] by Phillip Kreimer, who has twice been kicked off Instagram. Read about it here.

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