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A view of the Neuberger collection at the Neuberger Museum of Art in 2014 (photo by Lynda Curtis, courtesy the museum)

Today, the Neuberger Museum of Art announced that because of the passage of a new anti-LGBTQ bill in Mississippi, its director, Dr. Tracy Fitzpatrick, and the president of Purchase College, SUNY, Thomas J. Schwarz, will not attend the opening of When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection at the Mississippi Museum of Art on April 9.

The news comes after Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed House Bill 1523, known as “The Religious Liberty Accommodations Act,” into law today. The bill allows individuals, religious organizations, and private associations to use religion to discriminate against LGBTQ people at work, school, and in their communities. Following Kansas and North Carolina, Mississippi is the third US state to recently sign into law an explicitly anti-LGBTQ bill.

When Modern Was Contemporary is a touring exhibition that features 52 artists from the university museum’s prominent collection of art from the United States. It includes works by Jackson Pollock, Marsden Hartley, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, Mark Rothko, and many others.

In its fight against anti-LGBTQ laws, the Neuberger Museum said that many of the programs associated with its current Louise Fishman retrospective will focus on LGBTQ issues.

Fitzpatrick and Schwarz issued the following statement regarding their decision:

Dr. Tracy Fitzpatrick: At the Neuberger Museum of Art, we are delighted that the residents of Mississippi will be afforded the extraordinary opportunity to view works by some of America’s most important 20th century artists from our collection in When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection. This exhibition reflects the ways in which our founding patron, Roy R. Neuberger, supported living artists irrespective of their backgrounds and beliefs, and valued open dialogue through a mix of ideas – even those that were controversial and unpopular, an approach that is in opposition to Mississippi’s new, sweeping, discriminatory anti-gay and transgender legislation.

As an academic art museum our role is to educate diverse audiences in and through the visual arts by presenting a variety of media and cultural perspectives, and works by artists from diverse backgrounds and convictions. While I hope that the presence of the works by such a diverse group of artists in When Modern Was Contemporary will help create dialogue around these issues, in view of Mississippi’s new discriminatory law it is with great regret that I must decline the Mississippi Museum of Art’s kind invitation to celebrate with them on the occasion of the opening of the Neuberger exhibition.

In keeping with its values, the Neuberger Museum hopes that its newly opened exhibition, Louise Fishman: A Retrospective, will also contribute to this dialogue in a meaningful way. The exhibition is the first career survey of this important American artist who has long fought for the meaningful recognition that we believe has eluded her and many women artists because of sexism and anti-gay bias. Hopefully, both the Louise Fishman exhibition and When Modern Was Contemporary will stimulate comment and thoughtful dialogue as many in the nation struggle to achieve a greater climate of acceptance and equality. Many of the programs associated with the Louise Fishman exhibition will focus on LGBTQ issues.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

22 replies on “In Response to Mississippi’s Anti-LGBTQ Bill, Neuberger Museum Director Will Not Attend Opening”

      1. she didn’t give a rational basis for her decision. i’m not inventing one for her. i’ll agree that it is “fantastic” in that it completely violates the responsibilities she’s supposed to fulfill as director of a university art museum.

        1. You seem to have a very specific idea of what the job requires. I think this is the kind of gesture that points out the responsibility for universities to take a stand.

          1. with all due respect, I don’t think you know what universities are for. they do not take “stands” and still remain academically free. they are not organizations that exist for instrumental ends, political, technological, or economic. (see stanley fish’s writing on academia.) this woman’s view of a bill that passed in a state where she has professional obligations isn’t related to what her educational duties are. maybe she will be “talked to” by CUNY or replaced by someone better fit for the job.

          2. “they do not take “stands” and still remain academically free. they are not organizations that exist for instrumental ends, political, technological, or economic. ” So why then have the Koch Brothers been investing now so heavily in specific college programs across the USA?

          3. So, Amanda: to you, there’s no room to protest that all residents in this state do not enjoy full complete rights as human beings?

            I believe this is a case where the wrongness is so deep and offensive that two individuals are very deliberately choosing to use their professional positions to stand up for those affected. How could this possibly be not-right? If brave and indignant people, in public positions and not, had never taken a stand, you likely wouldn’t be enjoying your right to vote today.

            We need more of these actions, in my mind. Or very soon the Koch brothers will run the world.

          4. the question is if this woman, as a state employ of the educational system of new york, is within her rights to not fulfill professional obligations in another state on grounds of moral opposition to some aspect of that state’s law. we may applaud this woman’s moral righteousness (I certainly don’t), but consider another scenario.

            should the art handlers at the neuberger museum, or a registrar, follow suit in abdicating travel to MS to do their job at the museum (e.g., say, pick up some art or do condition reports, etc), ms. fitzpatrick would fire them, or recommend they be fired, and justifiably so.

            that helps answer the question, i believe, as to what she is and is not permitted to do in her capacities at the museum and that museum’s relations to others it works with. it seems to me that she didn’t really need to be at the opening in the first place, so her not going is inconsequential.

          5. so

            (1) her attendance was inessential to her job and therefore was not allowed to go.

            or

            (2) her attendance as essential to her job and did not go.

            if (1) this is not a news story. if (2) she can be subject to disciplinary measures.

          6. I believe the professionals in question here were perfectly aware that they may be subject to disciplinary measures – that is in fact what makes their statements and actions powerful. (Now, this will not happen of course with the NY State ban official travel to MS.)

            Not sure why I keep trying to appeal to your humane side, sanna4bernie: You seem profoundly lost in semantics and attached to principles, as well as alarmingly detached from any sense of social responsibility. More than one historical man-made disaster has started with people reasoning the way you do…

          7. My position is that her refusal to attend is an embarrassment to the museum that has nothing to do with the laws and an abdication of her job to educate people about the show. Her not attending will bring no attention to anyone who could be influenced to change the stupid anti-LGBT legislation, which will probably be overturned within a matter of months. She isn’t U2 canceling a concert, a large commercial business threatening to pull business from the state, or public figure that could have newsworthy impact and create pressure against lawmakers. That’s why I think her “refusal” is self-important, self-righteous, and sad. It costs her nothing. It’s the museum, the staff, visitors, and area students that paid the loss for her haughty absence, the small community of people who knows who she is or cares one bit about her whereabouts on the night of the opening.

          8. Okay, so you think only famous people may bother, in other words.

            Well, here’s a follow-up question: you don’t think it’s possible that this very person’s “self-righteous, pretentious, and sad” refusal may have in some way contributed to the NY State ban on travel?

          9. (1) Never said that. My point is her “public refusal” leverages no political pressure on anything or anyone in that state on any issue. Pretending it does is what’s so pretentious. She caught some praise on an internet art blog, which is probably her ideal outcome, a bit of applause in the art world echo chamber.

            (2) No. Nobody knows who she is or cares. I don’t mean that in a critical way. It’s just likely true. NY state employees about 40,000 people in higher education alone. She did nothing and sacrificed nothing of her own. She just disappointed a small arts community in a flyover state.

          10. I’m not sure how you can claim to know with any certainty what her (and in your eyes so cynical) intention is or that no one cares? To me, your responses look like a textbook case of someone only being able to see as far as their own limitations. If cynicism is all you know, then it’s all you can see.

            On that note, I’m leaving this conversation.
            With genuinely kind wishes,
            MTA_mutt

          11. Actually, as I think the state of NY has banned official state travel to MS, “as a state employee,” I believe she is indeed fulfilling her professional obligations. And obviously you have NO inkling of what colleges and universities are like. They take stands in support of equality all the time. I know the presidents of both Ole Miss and MSU have publically decried the hate law recently passed in MS.

          12. re travel: see my response above.

            re universities: what they “are like” does not determine “what they are for” nor what academic freedom entails. having taught in universities, i know both what they are like and what they are for (which is not always the same).

  1. I do not quite understand this “response”. Is it in protest? The decision seems counterintuitive to me. Do Thomas J. Schwarz and Dr. Fitzpatrick fear they are in some danger if they attend the opening? : (

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