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Museum Keeps Chuck Close Exhibition, Supplements It with Show About Power and Gender Dynamics

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which is currently hosting a show of Close’s photographs, will put on a range of programs in light of recent sexual misconduct allegations against the artist.

Installation view of Chuck Close Photographs at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (all photos courtesy Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)

Since allegations of sexual misconduct against Chuck Close publicly emerged — first in December, then earlier this month — many people have increasingly debated whether art should be judged on its own terms, or whether the character of its artist should color our perspective. And some museums, too, are grappling with how to address this issue in regards to their collections.

As the Stranger reported, Seattle University quietly removed a self-portrait of Close from its library in December, out of concern about “potential student, faculty or staff reaction to seeing the self-portrait.” (The University replaced it with a self-portrait by Linda Stojak.) Just last week, the National Gallery of Art announced that it will postpone a solo exhibition of Close’s art, stating that “it is not the appropriate time to present these installations.” Following that news, the Broad Museum told the New York Times, that it is “engaged in active internal discussion” about one of its paintings by Close on display.

The allegations have been of very serious concern as well to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), particularly as the institution opened a six-month-long exhibition of Close’s photographs in October. This survey will remain up, PAFA director Brooke Davis Anderson told Hyperallergic, but on Friday, February 9, the museum will open a concurrent show in an adjacent gallery that is intended to respond to the allegations in broad terms.

Installation view of Chuck Close Photographs at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

“The satellite space will really be addressing art and gender dynamics, power in the workplace, rights for all, equity for all, and life as an artist,” Anderson said. She explained that the exhibition will feature objects from PAFA’s permanent collection as well as an interactive component to foster conversation, but declined to provide further information as the exhibition is still being finalized.

The decision is the result of a community forum PAFA organized on January 17 to address the exhibition in light of the allegations, new ones of which Hyperallergic had reported only the day before. Students, faculty, curators, and local artists in PAFA’s collection were present to voice their opinions. Anderson and other senior staff had actually been discussing these issues since December 20 — the day after the Huffington Post first published accounts by three women against Close.

“We knew that we wanted to, in some way, be responsive to our public, which includes our students, staff, and faculty,” Anderson said. “We opened up [the forum] with a conversation about what this means for artists in the workplace. As an art school and an art museum, we certainly consider the studio space from which many of these allegations stem as a site of work.”

Installation view of Chuck Close Photographs at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

From the start, however, PAFA’s senior staff “felt strongly that it was not a decision for us to close the exhibition,” Anderson said. “We started to realize that if we took the show down, in a way it sort of allowed everybody to move on to the next very important thing in the workplace. We felt if we took the exhibition down it would in some ways halt the discussions that the forum had begun.”

She added that the Close exhibition will not be altered in any way. Organized by the Parrish Art Museum, the photographic survey has been touring since 2015. It is the first major exhibition in Philadelphia of Close’s work, and includes daguerreotype and Polaroid nudes — images some might see in a different light as Close’s process for recruiting and working with models has come under public scrutiny.

Installation view of Chuck Close Photographs at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

The museum will also host a suite of public programs that it is still developing. Along with the supplementary exhibition, these will continue during the run of the Close exhibition, which is slated to end on April 8.

“We have a solid two months to really keep this conversation active and meaningful; respectful and honest for the PAFA community,” Anderson said. “We are being responsive and attentive to this information and this news.”

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Hyperallergic is committed to reporting on sexual harassment in the art world. If you have a story about personal or institutional abuse in our field, please write to Claire Voon at [email protected]

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