Sheriff Orders Removal of Sculptures Deemed “Possible Weapons”

Sculptures from Suprina's "Conception" series, at the Morris County Administration Building before their removal (all photos courtesy the artist)
Sculptures from Suprina Kenney’s “Conception” series. All images show artworks installed at the Morris County Administration Building, before their removal (all photos courtesy the artist)

Found-object sculptures that were on view in a government building in Morristown, New Jersey, have been removed, after the local sheriff decided that they were “possible weapons to be used against the public.”

The sculptures are the work of Harlem artist Suprina Kenney, and they were installed at the Morris County Administration and Records Building through Morris Arts, a local organization that manages three floors of exhibition space in the building, collectively known as the Atrium Art Gallery. Gallery director Lynn Siebert chose Suprina for inclusion in the fall/winter show in the space, and 33 of her sculptures were installed in the space on October 3 and 4. A week and a half later, on October 15, Siebert called Suprina with bad news from the sheriff, Edward Rochford.

Suprina Kenney, "Sandy Baptismal" (click to enlarge)
Suprina Kenney, “Sandy Baptismal” (click to enlarge)

“When she first told me this, I’m thinking ‘OK, they want the few sculptures that are around the probation office taken out,'” Suprina told Hyperallergic. “Some of my larger works were right outside the probation office, and I had asked them, for the sake of protecting my work, to put up stanchions, because a lot of kids come through there. My work is very tactile, and I could see people that are not art-savvy trying to pull things off. It never crossed my mind that my works would be deemed possible weapons.”

The sheriff in fact ordered the removal of all the art, immediately. Suprina speculates that the time issue arose because Rochford had posted a guard there 24/7 and didn’t want to continue paying for it. Hyperallergic left a message at the sheriff’s office but hadn’t heard back at the time of publication.

The county did allow her to videotape the installation before it was dismantled, and Morris Arts paid for a new truck for the move. (Suprina lives in Harlem and has her studio at the Brooklyn Navy Yard). And, fortunately, Gallery Aferro in Newark heard about the incident and offered to host some of the sculptures. Ten of them went on view there yesterday.

This isn’t the first time art has been removed from the Morris County administration building. In 2007, two pieces by Newark artist Gladys Barker Grauer — featuring former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal and Native American activist Leonard Peltier, both serving life sentences for murder of government officials — were removed hours before the opening of an annual African-American art exhibition. Grauer sued, and eventually the works were reinstalled in a different part of the building.

Suprina Kenney, "Seduction"
Suprina Kenney, “Seduction”

Of her own experience, Suprina says, “I do not want to play a blame game. I don’t see this as censorship. I see this as a sad statement on a marshal who felt that my work was dangerous, who felt that he had to do this to protect the public. I have questioned that all my pieces had to be removed, yet all my pieces do include metal objects, glass, wood objects, so technically you could pull anything off the wall and use it as a weapon.”

“But to that matter,” she adds, “you could pull a painting off the wall and break the frame and have a bat. So at what point does this end?”

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