When I learned of the dismissal of Kimberli Meyer, director of the University Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach, on September 11, less than a week before the opening of lauren woods’ American Monument, an installation about police brutality, it struck a familiar chord.
The installation’s focal point is 25 turntables mounted on pedestals, each with a record that plays a variety of audio documentation about the violent deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police officers. Where audio was not available, the records are blank. The striking absence of visual representations of violence against Black bodies thoughtfully encourages greater concentration on the recorded content.
Meyer and woods worked collaboratively on the installation from its inception. It was the first project initiated by Meyer upon her arrival at the museum in 2016. In other words, until American Monument opened, the shows she mounted were already in the pipeline. While the university insists that the firing had nothing to do with the content of the installation, its timing, as woods aptly points out, is suspicious.
Eighteen years ago, at what was considered a progressive university in Connecticut, I experienced a related situation, not unlike that of Kimberli Meyer and lauren woods. Black and Blue: Examining Police Violence was scheduled to open Friday evening, October 20, 2000, at the beginning of Homecoming and Parents Weekend.
The then president of the university and the director of the Office of University Relations requested, not long before Black and Blue would open, that the public opening be moved to a different weekend when it “wouldn’t jeopardize the launching of a capital campaign.” Or, to move the reception to Sunday afternoon of that weekend when, they implied, many parents and alumni would have already left the campus. That Sunday, October 22, also happened to be the annual National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. Attention was not drawn to this wonderfully ironic coincidence, and the show opened on Sunday.
While Black and Blue was still being organized, a grant of $2,000 from the university’s Affirmative Action Office, along with its enthusiastic co-sponsorship, was withdrawn at the insistence of the president. The press release, a letter requesting financial assistance from a well-known private arts foundation, and other text about the project were wordsmithed by the administration in an effort to defuse their political content and emphasize that, above all, it was an art exhibition. Sound familiar?
A panel was organized that included Jill Nelson, editor of the anthology Police Brutality (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000) and a professor of journalism at CCNY at the time; Patricia J. Williams, professor of law at Columbia University and a proponent of critical race theory; and two artists in the show: Pat Ward Williams, whose installation Move? (1989-2000) is about the 1985 military-style police bombing of the MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia, and Dread Scott, who was represented by an installation Historic Corrections (1998) and an inkjet print Turn of the Century (1999). As with every aspect of this show, which was not the case with any others, the panel had to be approved by the administration. The university provost insisted that “the other side must be represented.” In the end, the panel was composed exclusively of artists in the show. Patricia Williams and Jill Nelson had to be disinvited.
In addition, every work in the show was run by the local police department for its approval. There were no objections, despite the department’s history of profiling Black students, a fact that was marked that Sunday, October 22 by a 200-strong, student-organized march from the gallery to police headquarters for a rally.
After all these attempts to undermine it, the show opened intact.
As the curator of Black and Blue, I feel deep solidarity with Kimberli and lauren. Thank you, Kimberli, for selecting an artist whose vision you believed in and for presenting what from a distance, sounds like a powerful installation; and you, lauren for conceiving American Monument, with its unique approach to race-based police violence and for the pause you insisted on in deference to your “collaborator.” I admire your supportive working relationship and hope that woods’ eloquent response to Meyer’s unexplained dismissal signals a new chapter in your creative collaboration. And, very importantly, that this incident leads to increased dialogue about police violence, creative and legal challenges to it, and the power of art to raise consciousness about critical issues.
Nina Felshin curated Black and Blue: Examining Police Violence. She is a curator, writer, and activist.
Although Khedoori does not depict living beings, their presence is evoked in the traces they leave behind.
The Bronx Museum’s fifth biennial continues to focus its programming on individual identity, eliding the ever-divergent interests of the art market and local communities.
Part of the university’s Artists on the Future series pairing renowned artists with cultural thought leaders, this online event is free and open to the public.
While it may be strange to think of food insecurity as a basis for art, the works in Food Justice reveal barriers and injustices in food access.
Shiv would definitely have a Chihuly chandelier.
“[The art market] provides an opportunity for people to move money in a way that they can’t with other commodities,” says FBI Special Agent Chris McKeogh.
Black American Portraits features over two centuries of artworks centering Black artists and subjects.
Weisman Museum of Art Presents Highlights From the Kinsey African American Art and History Collection
An exhibition at Pepperdine University in Malibu chronicles the achievements and contributions of African Americans over the last five centuries.
A love of Black art and history was the bedrock of the friendship between Dell Marie Hamilton and Susan Denker, who had markedly different racial, economic, and generational subject positions.
With what he says is his final museum bow, Fitzpatrick shines a light on the colorful diversity that composes his city.
The question of race — however hidden, however camouflaged by the shouts of the crowds — is a constant theme and an unanswered challenge.