SFMoMA: Please Excuse Our Controversial Art
On January 1, I blogged about Emily Jacir’s Where We Come From, an incredible piece I had recently seen at SFMoMA. Today Tyler Green at Modern Art Notes has a very interesting post about the same piece, pointing out something I didn’t notice during my visit. It seems that in addition to the regular wall text explaining the project, the museum added what reads like a disclaimer:
“SFMOMA is committed to exhibiting and acquiring works by local, national and international artists that represent a diversity of viewpoints and positions. Works of art can engender valuable discussion about a range of topics including those that are difficult and contested, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Additional information about Emily Jacir’s Where We Come From, including a list of frequently asked questions, is available at the information desk in the Haas Atrium.”
Green goes on to point out that there are plenty of artworks dealing with “difficult and contested” issues (gay rights, capitalism, the Bush legacy) in the same show as the Jacir, none of which was deemed as controversial, apparently, as an artwork that seeks to humanize the Palestinian victims of political oppression.
I don’t know what to make of this. To me, it seems like the museum is acting out of fear of alienating donors and supporters who may have ties to Israel. Maybe this is a necessary part of museum politics, more important than ever as adequate funding becomes less and less of a given. Still, is the tone of the additional wall text too apologetic, too dismissive? Green thinks so, stating that the extra text “seems to reduce the Jacir to a work of art about one political situation” rather than acknowledging it as a subtle, sensitive work operating on many levels at once. I tend to agree. After all, it was SFMoMA that made the decision to acquire the work in the first place. This might be an inexcusably naive thing to say, but since when does political maneuvering dictate the public presentation of the objects in the museum’s collection?
(Thanks to Dino for pointing out Tyler Green’s post!)