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NYC Photo Exhibition Vandalized, Curator Attacked

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A photograph from the ‘Material Evidence’ exhibition partially cleaned up after being defaced earlier today (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Three individuals were involved in an attack on an exhibition in Chelsea this morning in which photographs were defaced, neo-Nazi leaflets dispersed, and a curator assaulted with pepper spray, Hyperallergic has learned. The assailants objected to the Ukraine-focused section of a photojournalistic show on recent unrest in that country and Syria called Material Evidence held at 540 West 21st Street (formerly home of the Eyebeam Art & Technology Center).

A little after 10am, two older individuals, a man and a woman, entered the gallery and headed to the Ukrainian section, where security guards and exhibition staff told Hyperallergic they are suspected to have distributed leaflets containing anti-Putin and neo-Nazi slogans and emblems along the ground. They did not interact with gallery staff or security beyond asking the curator, Benjamin Hiller, if he spoke Russian (he does not). The exhibition’s labyrinthine layout covers two countries — Syria and Ukraine — with visitors instructed to begin in the Syria section, though after the brief exchange with Hiller the duo headed directly for the Ukraine section.

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Photo of vandalism in the gallery (photo provided to Hyperallergic)

Shortly thereafter, a younger male between 25 and 30 entered into the gallery space, heading directly for the table near the entrance where Hiller was seated.

“He asked me if I am the guy responsible for the exhibition, that we have brought shame on the Ukraine people. I tried to explain that we show also the killed [Euromaidan] protesters, but then he pulled out pepper spray, sprayed it in my face and kicked against the table and my laptop fell on the ground,” Hiller told Hyperallergic.

The female member of the original duo left around the same time the younger man entered, according to security guards at the gallery who spoke to Hyperallergic on condition of anonymity, while the older gentleman allegedly defaced one photograph with what appears to be black ink and wrote “LIE” on a gallery wall. Pamphlets containing anti-Putin and neo-Nazi slogans were also distributed throughout the Ukraine-focused section. Hiller notes that angry messages had been posted on a Facebook group for the exhibition, but he has no clues beyond that as to the individual identities of the perpetrators.

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Some of the neo-Nazi pamphlets left by the vandals (photo courtesy Benjamin Hiller)

The exhibition was organized by and contains work from a group of Russian, Ukrainian, French, and Spanish photojournalists alongside physical artifacts from those conflict zones. A collaborative effort, it was, according to Hiller, backed by crowdfunding and private fundraising. Hiller, a freelance photojournalist and writer, was appointed curator by the group due to his prior involvement with the Browse Fotofestival in Berlin. The Chelsea exhibition will continue, with increased security, through October 11.

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