Josh Azzarella, from the series Still Works.
President Dorothea Keeser at the Chelsea Art Museum spoke to me today about The Aesthetics of Terror, an exhibition this blog reported in error had been canceled on her authority. Curator Manon Slome called a halt to the exhibition as a result of significant differences in opinion regarding content and the direction. While the details remain murky, frankly, it seems difficult to imagine a political themed show weathering well executive decisions made with the rationale, “That’s not art”.
Paddy Johnson: We discussed this a little over email, and I wanted to continue this with you now so you have the opportunity to express the museum’s view point.
Dorothea Keeser: The problem is that you had something that is completely wrong, because the curator Manon Slome quit and canceled the exhibition in the same email. She did not quit as a response to anything we did. On the contrary, we accepted the final version of the catalog about 6 hours before this.
Paddy Johnson: So she didn't quit as a response to what you had done? I understood the opposite from what an artist had written about the show. It was taken from an email Manon forwarded to me this morning. I'll read you what she wrote:
Dear Friends and colleagues,
You probably gathered from the change of title and the constant changes of date that there were problems at the Chelsea Art Museum regarding the exhibition which began as “Aesthetics of Terror.” Having been on the calendar and in preparation for almost two years, with everyone kept fully involved in the show’s development, the president of the museum concluded that the show glorified terrorism and showed disrespect for its victims.
Our willingness to accommodate and conduct an attentive and sensitive dialogue with the museum, was met with increasing hostility. What began with questions as to the title soon evolved into tactics of blocking, demands for change, for the elimination of some work, some essays and images from the catalogue which would have seriously compromised the show. As a result Manon resigned from the museum and we pulled the show.
Dorothea Keeser: It is incorrect that it went beyond a normal discussion, about this or that text and about, for example, severe grammatical catastrophes that should have been corrected before the printing. I think it is very acceptable to criticize [a catalog with] an introduction which I wrote. So if I write an introduction for an exhibition, it is an exhibition which has been discussed with me, it has been accepted by me. I have been very integrated. I translated German text for her that was never put into the catalog. But that doesn't mean that we didn't have a normal professional dialog. Nothing sounded like what you read to me.
Paddy Johnson: So you never said that the show glorified terrorism and showed disrespect for its victims?
Dorothea Keeser: I said there were several exhibition parts which glorified terrorism and which disrespected the human beings. Absolutely. I am absolutely able stand up for that because that is my opinion. I do not think that an artist should show children and women which are torn apart by bombs. That is not the question for the artist. An artist has to go one step beyond, and find what are the reasons for terrorism and how one can go to another way a revolution against terrorism, and not just show very banal photos which we see every day in the television. That's not art.
Paddy Johnson: So which artist is doing that?
Dorothea Keeser: I do not know, and would not like to get into the discussion of whether I did not like this or that artist. I only went into the discussion that I think we have to discuss both sides; why there is terrorism, and what other possibilities there are. A lot of peace makers have had very big success. The only way to fight is not to throw guns at innocent people. And this is the perfect exhibition to discuss these ideas and not to cancel it! This openness for discussion was completely lacking because if I say something like this, I do not criticize, I try to help. I want to open a discussion and a dialog.
A response from Curator Manon Slome
I would like to say that I am not looking for controversy. I was surprised by Dorothea’s turn against the show as she has always showed a wonderful tolerance for individual rights and political freedom. I now only seek a receptive venue to place what I believe is an extremely important exhibition that sheds light on an undeniable phenomena of our times.
Editor’s note: Technical problems resulted in a fragmented post earlier today. Apologies.
Additional details at Off Center