Hartney attaching her guerrilla label next to a Picasso (photo by Nate Brav-McCabe)

This Saturday, November 3, artist Michelle Hartney stealthily redecorated the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a series of plaques wielding feminist messages about artistically heralded but morally dubious male artists like Pablo Picasso and Paul Gauguin.

“I didn’t know if they would arrest me or ban me,” Hartney told Hyperallergic. “But if that’s a consequence, I’m willing to face that.”

“The Me Too movement gave me the push to start incorporating justice for women within the art world,” she explains. She says that while her work has always taken influence from feminist ideologies (including underacknowledged realities like the devastating maternal mortality rate) she felt discomfited by what she considers the art industry’s general dismissal of the cultural reform the increasingly popular movement called for.

Hartney’s placard next to Paul Gaugin’s “Two Tahitian Women” (photo by Michelle Hartney)

Rather than censoring the artworks or banning their creators, Hartney says her goal is “contextualizing these pieces for people who are coming to the museum and learning about these artists for the first time.”

“We have to leave these [paintings] up so we can learn from them,” she affirms.

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Last night after the march I went to the @metmuseum to protest the lack of education the museum offers its patrons. Many people learn about Picasso and other artists solely through museums. I enacted a performance/call to action to separate the art from the artist, using the words of my hero @hannah_gadsby a comedian and art historian who so articulately spoke about this topic in her Netflix comedy special Nanette. (She wasn’t involved in this so I don’t want to implicate her) “The history of western art is just the history of men painting women like they’re flesh vases for their dick flowers.‘…Cause it doesn’t get any better with modern art, I tell you. I trip on the first hurdle. Pablo Picasso. I hate him, but you’re not allowed to. I hate him. But you can’t. Cubism. And if you ruin… cubism, then civilization as we know it will crumble. Cubism. Aren’t we grateful… that we live in a post-cubism world? Isn’t that the first thing we all write in our gratitude journals? “Oh, thank god.” I don’t like Picasso. I fucking hate him… he did suffer a mental illness. Picasso did. He suffered badly and it got worse as he got older. Picasso suffered… the mental illness of misogyny… Smarter men than I have proved he didn’t suffer a mental illness, but they’re– No, they’re wrong. They’d say he’s not a misogynist. They’re wrong. He was. If you don’t believe me, let me provide you a quote from Picky Asshole himself. He said, “Each time… I leave a woman, I should burn her. Destroy the woman, you destroy the past she represents.” Cool guy. The greatest artist of the twentieth century. Let’s make art great again, guys. Picasso fucked an underage girl. And that’s it for me. Not interested. “But cubism… We need it.” Marie-Thérèse Walter. She was 17 when they met. Underage. Legally underage. Picasso was 42, married, at the height of his career. Does it matter? Yeah. Yeah, it actually does. It does matter.” -Hannah Gadsby #fuckpicasso #fuckromanpolanski #fuckbillcosby #fuckgauguin #fucklouieck #fuckwoodyallen #fleshvasesfordickflowers #separatetheartfromtheartist #metmuseum #picasso #gaugain #woodyallen #billcosby #romanpolanski #jerrysaltz #robertasmith

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Beside Picasso’s “The Dreamer,” Hartney affixed a label explaining her “Performance/Call to Action,” with a quoted excerpt from Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix comedy special, Nanette. Gadsby condemns Picasso for his illegal affair with a 17-year-old girl, Marie-Thérèse Walter, saying, “Picasso suffered … the mental illness of misogyny … He said, ‘Each time … I leave a woman, I should burn her. Destroy the woman, you destroy the past she represents.’”

The plaque which sat beside Paul Gaugin’s “Two Tahitian Women”(courtesy of Michelle Hartney)

French post-Impressionist painter Paul Gaugin, in his adulthood, married several teenage girls native to the South Pacific after moving to the region. Next to his painting “Two Tahitian Women,” Hartney sampled an excerpt from an article by Roxane Gay on predators’ legacies, called, “Can I Enjoy the Art but Denounce the Artist?”

“There are all kinds of creative people who are brilliant and original and enigmatic and capable of treating others with respect,” Gay writes. “There is no scarcity of creative genius, and that is the artistic work we can and should turn to instead.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art told Hyperallergic the museum has opted not to make a statement, but that the labels were removed as soon as they were discovered. Hartney says she has not been contacted by the museum.

The artist told Hyperallergic that earlier this year she staged a similar protest-performance at her alma mater, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which was displaying a painting by Balthus, a painter and photographer known for depicting pre-pubescent girls in sexualized positions.

Inspired by a 2017 petition by Mia Merrill called, “Metropolitan Museum of Art: Remove Balthus’ Suggestive Painting of a Pubescent Girl, Thérèse Dreaming,” which asked the Met to “more carefully vet the art on its walls,” Hartney titled her performance, “Correcting Art History: How Many Crotch Shots of a Little Girl Does It Take to Make a Painting?” She says the school threatened to revoke her alumni status, but the plaques remained up for four days.

Jasmine Weber is an artist, writer, and former news editor at Hyperallergic. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

20 replies on “Artist Covertly Hangs #MeToo-Inspired Wall Labels at the Met Museum”

  1. kinda surprised they let her do this. don’t they have surveillance cameras on all the time?

  2. OK, she got her 15 minutes. And damned right Picasso was a misogynist, a total jerk. But the Instagram post was waaaaaay over the top, hysterical, maybe in need of meds. I do agree that museums — and art schools public and private — need to provide more indepth contextualization of artists whole beings, nasty warts and all — but… Nope, that’s it, I’m done.

  3. “She says the school threatened to revoke her alumni status, but the plaques remained up for four days.”

    Patriarchy gotta keep the little ladies in line.

  4. I don’t think Picasso’s instrumentalisation of women is in any way to be admired, but Hartley’s instagram post is just factually incorrect. The age of heterosexual consent in France in 1927 was 13 (raised to 15 in 1945). We might find that fact uncomfortable but there’s no doubt that Walter was not underage. Where, indeed, is 17 legally underage even now? Not anywhere in Europe, for sure.

      1. He isn’t defending it. He is simply pointing out the factual errors in an “Activist Artist” that claims she wants to improve on the ways museums contextualize artworks. Why are you consistently attempting to distort people’s arguments rather than engaging with them?

        1. Yes,age of consent laws differ in other parts of the world. And for that matter misogyny isn’t actually a “mental illness” although conflating the two could avoid looking at misogyny as social conditioning or learned behavior while also further stigmatizing people who live with mental illness, like even we sort of high-functioning ones don’t have enough to deal with. In the name of accuracy.

          1. I am not sure I am following your critique. Did someone on here claim that misogyny was a form of mental illness rather than a social/ideological construction?

          2. Hartney makes that claim in her call-out of Picasso which is up there in the article, before she gets to the stuff about underage girls actually. She writes:

            “I don’t like Picasso. I fucking hate him…he did suffer a mental illness. Picasso did. He suffered badly and it got worse as he got older. Picasso suffered… the mental illness of misogyny…”

          3. Oh ok, I see it up there. We don’t have Netflix. Whoever’s saying it or repeating it, my argument on why it’s unhelpful criticism, I’m sticking to it.

      2. I’m not ‘defending’ it. I’m pointing out that language and factual accuracy matter in this case. If Harvey “fucking hates” Picasso because he ‘fucked an underage girl’ – a claim that she specifically reiterates three times – then the credibility of her performance of anger is diminished if no-one was underage. I also note that Weber’s text swallows the same claim, ascribing it to Hannah Gadsby. I would question why Harvey and Gadsby so badly ‘need’ Walter to be underage for their argument to be valid.

  5. Age of Consent In France
    “The age of consent was set at 11 in 1832 and at 13 in 1863. In 1942, the age of consent for homosexual acts was set at 21, while for heterosexual acts it was still 13. The latter was increased to 15 in 1945. In 1974, the age for homosexual acts was lowered to 18. In 1982, it was lowered to 15, in line with that for heterosexual acts.”

    “Activist” artists need to actually care enough about their projects to do the minimum amount of research. Picasso’s misogyny is not that out of line with MANY canonized male artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. A structural critique of patriarchy is important but cherry picking which “bad dead man” you want to target and then distorting their actual history and exaggerating their abusive tendencies is simply intellectually and morally stupid.

    1. Soooo just because the age of consent used to be 13, that makes it okay? Are you okay with Picasso saying “Each time I leave a woman, I should destroy her”? Your defense of Picasso’s misogyny is akin to defending German anti-semitism in the 1940s. Just because things were accepted, even legal, at the time, does not make them in any way justifiable.

      It’s not cherry picking “bad dead men” when you go after the ones that have the most prominence, fame, and power. Who are you to say she exaggerated Picasso’s abusive tendencies? How do you know?

      If you really do think a structural critique of patriarchy is important, then maybe you should open your mind a little. You’re still allowed to admire his works, by the way.

      1. In no place do I ever “defend” Picasso’s misogyny. I am saying that Picasso in no way broke the law and that arguing that a museum should place a label saying he was a criminal sex offender therefore makes no sense. I don’t in any way see a connection between anti-semitism in Europe during the rise of fascism and statutory laws around age of consent. I don’t think it should be a crime for people to engage in sexual activity at the age of 17. I don’t have any desire to do that myself but I do believe that a 17-year-old is capable of consenting. Marie Therese Walter, nor any of her children or friends, ever complained about her relationship with Picasso from the perspective of age coercion. I think placing this onto her is actually an act of misogyny itself because it rewrites her own complaints against Picasso which had nothing to do with age. People can be horrifically misogynistic and not be pedophiles.

        I don’t really understand your second paragraph. Is it that you believe that I believe that Walter exaggerated Picasso’s mistreatment of her? That never comes up in my initial post. What we have on historical record is quite damning and it is also corroborated by Picasso’s behavior with many people. Picasso was abusive and he was a misogynist there is no doubt about that. Perhaps what you meant was how dare I critique Michelle Hartney for not doing research into her target? If that was the case then I do feel I have every right to critique an “activist artist” when they put out pieces of misinformation within their work. I am lodging a critique of intellectual sloppiness by someone who is claiming the label of “Artist Activist” and opens herself up to critique by publicly claiming that she is single-handedly improving art history. If one is going to engage in this kind of cultural work one should do that with some level of humility and some of level of intellectual rigor.

        1. She could talk about how he was misogynist, abusive, and dismissive of women, and how he cheated on his wife with a teenage girl without stating she was “legally underage”. I think people would still get the point.

          1. Agreed. I think the “legally underage” thing was Gadsby being “dramatic”. I actually think she knew she was distorting but that she wanted a dramatic moment in her performance piece. It’s a problem when an “activist artist” just accepts what a comic in a performance piece says as some kind of gospel rather then doing the minimum amount of her own research.

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