As the debate rages on about what should be done with the work of artists accused of improper behavior, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia is taking what might be considered a middle position on Chuck Close, the acclaimed artist accused of sexual harassment by several women. Instead of closing its exhibition of career-spanning photographs by Mr. Close, the museum announced this week that it will leave the show up — but will also add a nearby gallery examining power imbalances between genders.
This comes as several top institutions are grappling with how to handle Mr. Close’s work. On Tuesday, the artist Emma Sulkowicz turned her attention to Mr. Close (and Pablo Picasso) by staging protest performances at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, seeking to put pressure on their directors. Seattle University removed a self-portrait by Mr. Close valued at about $35,000 from its Lemieux Library, a move first reported by The Stranger. And the National Gallery of Art last week postponed a solo exhibition by Mr. Close that was supposed to open in May.
Officials at Pennsylvania Academy, which is also a school, said they immediately started discussing what to do with Mr. Close’s exhibition after HuffPost and The New York Times published stories in December detailing accusations that Mr. Close made unwelcome comments to several women that he was considering as models and pushed them to pose naked. Mr. Close has called the allegations “lies.”
The traveling exhibition, which opened at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in October and was organized by the Parrish Art Museum in New York, features 90 photographs taken by Mr. Close dating to 1965. It is set to close on April 8. At a community forum with senior executives, board members, faculty, students and others on Jan. 17, a consensus was reached, museum officials said: Create a new gallery.
“My team and I wanted to be future focused,” said Brooke Davis Anderson, the director of the museum. “We are deeply entrenched in this time of hearing stories about power and gender and abuse of power against genders. We wanted to look forward to what that knowledge can do to shape a future of equity.”
The new, concurrent exhibition will feature pieces from PAFA’s permanent collection as well as an interactive, physical timeline. It will run from the present day to around 2050, and anyone who views the exhibition will be able to submit ideas on how to achieve equality in the art world.
Other art institutions are being pressured to take down Mr. Close’s work entirely.
The artist Ms. Sulkowicz gained national attention when she dragged a 50-pound mattress around Columbia University’s campus for a year to protest how the school had handled her charge of rape against a fellow student. On Tuesday, dressed only in underwear and self-applied asterisks, Ms. Sulkowicz went to the Met Museum with her friend, the photographer Sangsuk Sylvia Kang, and stood in front of one of Mr. Close’s paintings.
They also went to a subway station displaying murals by Mr. Close and to MoMA, where Ms. Sulkowicz posed in front of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” by Picasso, a known abuser of women.
Ms. Sulkowicz, who has a show coming up at the Invisible Dog Art Center in March, said she was inspired to take a stand by an article in The New York Times on Sunday that questioned whether museums would now have to provide information about artists who have been accused of misconduct — the equivalent of an asterisk. Museum directors in the article said that it was important to distinguish the value of the art from the behavior of the artist, and that historically important works by the likes of Mr. Close are worth keeping.
“I just wished I could say to each of the museum directors: ‘If it had been your daughter who had been affected by Chuck Close and Picasso, how could you look her in the eye and say, Sorry, we’re keeping the painting and the painting matters more than my relationship to you,’” Ms. Sulkowicz said. “In saying that, they are privileging a stupid painting over the experiences of survivors, and that to me is really abhorrent.”
At the Met, Ms. Sulkowicz said two guards summoned a security supervisor, but that she and her friend left before any supervisor approached. The Met declined to comment.
MoMA said in a statement, “We respect the rights of individuals to speak out on issues they feel strongly about, and recognize that museums are important centers of debate and conversation.”
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