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Art Censored or Juried?
Categories: FYI, OP/EDs

Censored or Juried?

I am writing in response to my abrupt, incorrect, rude and inappropriate removal from the 2010 exhibit schedule by the exhibit committee at a Community College in Baltimore, MD. My work was rejected because of an abstract and ambiguous censorship policy which the Dean on the exhibit review committee of the college has. It has opened my consciousness to the idea of censorship and what it currently means for artists in the entire art community. I believe there needs to be further frank and open discussion about the matter from both sides.

I’ll start from the beginning to make my case clear of this misconduct and show you why I am so upset. I was offered a solo show on May 15, 2008 by the gallery coordinator at the Community College. I accepted soon after. The information was listed as follows:

Work, painting. Curator, Gallery Coordinator. February 2 through March 12, 2010. Reception, February 19, 6 to 8 pm. Inclement weather date, February 26, 6 to 8 pm. Install, February 1 through 5. De-install, March 15-19.

Prior to this offer my portfolio of art was viewed by the gallery coordinator and possibly by the exhibit committee. It consisted of representational and abstract oil paintings on canvas, my resume and artist statement and press clippings. My resume displayed a clear and long professional exhibit history. Some of my solo exhibits were actually organized entirely by me all the way up to the installation and receptions. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art. I also have a vast amount of experience packing and installing exhibits at museums and galleries throughout the U.S. as an art handler. If any of my references were to be checked it would be very clear I was a safe bet to professionally follow through in every way in my commitment of a solo show. I specifically remember asking the gallery coordinator if I could exhibit whatever I wanted including nudes. The answer was yes. I was not told the show had to be juried or that there were any censorship policies. The gallery coordinator made some suggestions about showing some of my landscapes, which I mentioned I intended to do anyways. I don’t believe the contract at the time had any clause about not showing nudes or anything regarding censorship. I’m sure the contract has been recently changed in some way or will right after my response is submitted. It is very common for legitimate community colleges to show mature subject matter from time to time. I want to make very clear during this whole time up until my exhibit was abruptly eliminated I had no problem with the professional conduct of the gallery coordinator. I was given updates shown the gallery space. Everything had seemed to be up to standard protocol leading up to an exhibit and she was very professional. And the coordinator had answered any questions I had about my exhibit.

I continued to paint to produce new work for my much anticipated solo exhibition. I did mention to the gallery coordinator that I would have new work for the show as is to be expected for a working artist. It’s very important to mention for over a year’s time I stopped seeking out other solo and group exhibits that would conflict with my solo show. This is part of the negative impact the illegitimate removal of my exhibit has had on me. And will have for any future artists that may run into a similar problem I have had. I spent a lot of time and money on materials in anticipation of the show.

On June 19th, 2009 I got an unexpected studio visit from the gallery coordinator.  She requested to see my new work that was going to be in the exhibit.   It was conveyed to me very clearly that some of the subject matter was going to be a problem with the rest of the exhibit committee. She had to warn the committee about one painting in particular that she had already seen.

I thought nudity with artistic value would not be so strongly questioned in a gallery at a college in this day and age. The Dean and someone else on the exhibit committee which I don’t remember, apparently were going to have to approve of this and the other paintings. I was a bit taken back. I was not familiar with this policy. Certainly not when I was offered a show and put on the exhibit schedule in 2008. I offered to put up fold out screens along the glass windows of the gallery and have a sign stating, “Exhibit may contain mature subject matter and anyone under 18 must be accompanied by and adult.” The exhibit was also going to have an attendant the whole time. I realized the gallery has one whole side that is glass so I felt my offer of what to do was reasonable. Other community colleges and art centers in the area have shown in the galleries and live theaters at times what would be very mature subject matter. They put up a sign and have a gallery attendant. I did not hear back from the exhibit committee and I started to sense a lot of hostility from the people in charge of the committee. They never did comment on my offer for a resolution. I finally realized the bulk of or even all of my new paintings could be rejected by the committee. I started to fear that even if accepted some of my work may be removed at some point during the exhibit. Which I wouldn’t doubt has happened before based on what was done to me. It is standard practice in contracts for almost all shows I’ve exhibited in that work must remain up for the duration of the exhibit. I told the gallery coordinator I needed to show all of my new work. I was asked by the committee to submit a cd of “the works in question” and everything I was going to show. Are all artists asked to re-submit their work? Perhaps, but this very clearly had nothing to do with the quality of my work. I have many years experience of exhibiting and in this case also the quality of my work was never in question. I submitted a cd of all the paintings I planned to exhibit, paintings I was currently working on, an artist statement describing the work, and a resume. I explained intelligently why I needed to show all my work. If given the opportunity I would have further explained my figures are nude because they are not dated to a specific time and represent more open ended abstract ideas. There are various other open ended themes that are up to the viewer to decide.

Soon after the committee sent me a letter explaining they could not offer me a show because I was not willing to have a “juried” exhibit. This is insulting in many ways but first and foremost I was never offered a “juried” exhibit. I was offered a solo exhibition. Now all of a sudden they wanted to jury my work. The Dean and the committee didn’t even bother to comment to me on any of my paintings or my suggestions how to work this out. There was no discussion or debate of any kind.

In all my years of exhibiting I have never seen such a crass display of disrespect towards an artist. To be on an exhibit schedule for well over a year (with all the planning and work involved on my part) and to be dismissed in such an off hand manner is totally inexcusable. I can at least now say one thing is true about my art and my artist statement in that it “brings strong reaction from the viewer.” I could not get any more information on the matter because all communication has been cut off as if I was some kind of criminal. It is they who actually did something unsound. Have other artists and or students been treated this way at the college by producing a certain subject matter in their art? I would be interested to know. Things like this are rarely isolated incidences from my experience as an artist.

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