Sunday, June 2, 2024

Gaza and the Art World

To make it clear I do not support attacks on any individual or on any country, much less the slaughter of the innocent. However, I have no trouble with peaceful protest no matter the cause: we can all learn from it.

What prompted this missive is a recent article that I saw in the online art journal Hyperallergic and then I found a longer article in Art News from last December. The UK-based Organization Artists for Palestine circulated a letter signed by thousands of artists. The signers included David Velasco, Editor-in-Chief of Art Forum, the magazine well known for its coverage of modern and contemporary art, along with several Art Forum staff members. The letter called for a cease-fire and Palestinian liberation. However, it neglected to mention the cause of the war, the attack by Hamas on Israel.

On October 26th the New York Times reported that Velasco had been fired. It has been further reported that 700 past contributors to these magazines have agreed to withdraw their participation from Art Forum and their sister publications Art News and Art in America. Their publisher, Penske Media, has disputed the number, which does sound exaggerated.

Not only have articles been withdrawn or censored, but exhibitions and lectures have also been canceled all over the world in fear of the repercussions from one side or the other in the Israel-Palestine issue. These actions result in the opposite of the desired effect as they inflame the other side.

Examples of the turmoil are enumerated in Widewalls, a publication dedicated to modern and contemporary art and aimed at connecting art lovers and art dealers with an online marketplace. Here are a few headings from the Widewalls article, if you can call it just an article since it is 57 pages long online ... 

Staffers Demand SFMOMA Break Silence on Palestine

Artwork in the Massive Quilt for Palestine Unveiled at The Met Goes on Sale for Gaza (the quilt was unfurled by protesters on the museum steps)

In An Open Letter, Metropolitan Museum Employees (over 150) Call on the Institution to 'Stand in Defense of Palestinians'

Ruth Patir Locks Down Israeli Pavilion in Venice, Calling for Ceasefire and Prisoner Exchange

Jewish Anti-Zionist Artists Withdraw from Contemporary Jewish Museum Show

Artists and Curators Call for the Reinstating of the Cancelled Palestinian Event at Manchester Venue

One heading is not a report of protest but a statement of fact that no protest can change:

Gazan Art Centre Destroyed During Israel's Raid on Al-Shifa Hospital

In writing about protests around art I have expressed my belief that monuments to currently unpopular causes should not be removed but rather accompanied by explanations of why the works are now offensive, and exhibitions of works showing the other side of a cause.

Last week Hyperallergic published the work of Native American artists who belong to a group called Red Nation that states its position clearly. The artwork illustrates solidarity with Palestine on the basis that all indigenous people are on a parallel path with the Palestinians striving for decolonization and the return of their lands.

The art world is passionate about issues. It always has been and should continue to be. However, suppressing art by canceling exhibitions or artists withdrawing their work only denies the public the opportunity to learn about the issue.

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