tom moody May 24, 2014 at 10:37 am

The link to Marisa Olson’s post about Bitforms is taking me to a non-existent Facebook page. Did she remove the post? Change it since you published? If you saved it, or remember any of the substance, I’d be curious to know what she wrote.

Paddy Johnson May 24, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Maybe you have to be her friend on Facebook to see it? The link is correct.

Here’s what she wrote, copied and pasted below:

BITFORMS has cancelled the Postbinary Feminism show I curated, which was due to open in 3 weeks.

This, to me, is a tragic turn of events. And despite receiving a long, insulting email from gallery owner Steve Sacks threatening that, if I speak publicly about the cancellation, he “will be forced to react and reveal [my] utter lack of respect and professionalism,” I feel that I must say something about the disservice he did in breaking his contracts with the artists, myself, and the community of people who’ve so wonderfully supported this work & concept. It is not right.

I’ve been researching & writing about the Postbinary Feminism concept for almost two years, now. (It will later be a book.) I decided to curate a show in the course of this research, as a means of better getting to know seven great artists’ practice (Juliette Bonneviot, Heather Cassils @Cassils Heat, Jennifer Chan, Jesse Darling, Ann Hirsch, Angela Washko, and Addie Wagenknecht), but also trying to open public dialogue sooner (and in a broader way) than the publishing cycle allows. I pitched the show to Bitforms first and I was clear with them, the artists, and basically anyone who asked about the show, that I chose this venue because I thought it was ripe for institutional critique (I even thought I was so clever shifting IC to a commercial gallery, since it seems to take one to get into museum!), as the gallery has managed to position itself as one of the most important new media galleries in the world, despite a demonstrated lack of support for women–save a small number of greats, a couple of whom have been wonderful mentors to me.

Very shortly into the planning process, things became dysfunctional. I began receiving the “difficult woman” treatment when I asked for contracts, project timelines, and my established curatorial fee. –Which merited a few months of radio silence, a counteroffer of 1/3, an uncomfortable negotiation in which I explained that equal pay & wages for art workers were important parts of the legacy & ongoing discourses of feminism, followed by settlement on 2/3 and a constant stream of insults thereafter. Highlights include:

“Who the hell do you think you are”

“You may think you are turning my gallery around with your amazing show, but I have been around 12 years and have had numerous “amazing shows”. ”

“I should have cut this project off when you were threatening me with your bullshit information.” (Cf. Wages.)

… There’s more. It’s not pretty. I put up with a lot of inappropriate behavior for many months for the sake of the artists, but things started to sour over the last couple weeks when I finally pushed back & said I could no longer take the insults–which were not only impeding the planning process, but which were also now extending to the person I was dating.

So why was the show cancelled? I am still perplexed & traumatized by all of this, but I offer two conjectures: (1) A lack of understanding & support for the work; (2) Poor planning & communication.

I will say that Bitforms gave me decent autonomy over the checklist. They did, however, veto one trans* artist and tried to suggest that I add two men to the show, but I declined. Issues arose as it came time for the press release. They kept saying they didn’t understand the show & they needed text that was simpler & “more sexy.” !!!

On the morning the show was cancelled, I’d sent the gallery director the most approachable text I could & she emailed in a panic suggesting that we postpone the show. I said I didn’t want to do that because everything was already planned & some of the artists had already bought plane tickets to be in NYC for the opening. When I called her, she was angry. She exclaimed that she was scared of the show & the prospect of explaining it to people, that she didn’t understand it, and that she wanted to pull the plug. I kept pleading with her to calm down, stop screaming at me, and think about the ramifications of canceling. This is when she fired back, laying out what I’d call a Jill Abramson-style narrative about how I am too difficult to work with. I finally said, “It sounds like you’ve unfortunately made up your mind; I don’t want to stay on the phone and continue being insulted.” She yelled, “I agree!” and hung up on me.

That’s when I got the long, insulting email from Sacks threatening to smear me as ‘unprofessional’ if I spoke out. This leads me to conjecture #2.

The gallery is going through a lot right now. They have an already-small staff & their registrar is resigning. They are also getting ready to move into a new space, this summer, so there’s a lot to organize. For some reason, the gallery director is also taking all of her vacation time right now. So… A few weeks ago, it was like I woke up to panic-day at Bitforms. I started getting a barrage of aggressive, accusatory emails demanding ABCD info when I’d already sent A, B was in the hands of another staff person, C was something I didn’t know was ‘due’ because I was never given the timeline I asked for (I didn’t know yet about the move, vacay time, or resignation), and D was a question I’d already answered several times. I continued trying to field these msgs, despite their escalation. (Speaking of which, it doesn’t help that SS’s office is 4 floors above his staff’s, so he barks at me for things they already have. Lots of comm misfires.) Anyway, many of us have worked in environments like this; I’m sure I don’t need to say more.

I imagine they were administratively relieved to pull the plug on such a ‘scary’ and complicated show, not to mention paying me or producing the work they committed to. But this is about more than admin. I find it to be borderline censorial & insulting across the board. Sad.

SS ended his final insulting, threatening email by saying, “I am fine moving on amicably, but I am seriously concerned that you will not do the same.” I found this a bit oxymoronic, but my response to him was that he should reimburse the artists who lost money on travel, as a step in the right direction.

I will hit “Post” on this little deposition, now, and wait for the eggs to come flying my way. Meanwhile, my sincere apologies to the artists for the letdown & my thanks to all of those who supported Postbinary Feminism and myself in those months of being put through the wringer. Hopefully the show will find a happier home when the dust has settled.

tom moody May 24, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Thanks for the text. When I, a non-Zuck, go to that link I see a broken thumb icon and the words: “Sorry, this page isn’t available. The link you followed may be broken, or the page may have been removed.”

ohcomeoooooon May 24, 2014 at 3:51 pm

The (now removed) upcoming exhibits page for Postbinary Feminism on bitforms’ site is cached here if interested: http://goo.gl/t82szc

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