78 Famed Artists Including Kara Walker, Cindy Sherman, and Marina Abramovic Condemn the Dana Schutz Protest

The ICA in Boston. Image via @ICAinBoston on Twitter.
The ICA in Boston. Image via @ICAinBoston on Twitter.

Last week, a group of Boston artists, activists, and community members wrote an open letter calling for the artist Dana Schutz–of “Open Casket,” the painting of Emmett Till which outraged viewers for its racial insensitivity–to be banned altogether from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. (The ICA has kept up the show, which does not include “Open Casket,” but they have been noticeably low-key about the exhibition on social media). Yesterday nearly 100 members of the National Academy, a highly selective honorary society of celebrated artists, published an open letter denouncing the idea that an artist be blacklisted, calling it “the kind of intolerance and tyranny that we criticize in others.”


The list is weighty because it includes successful artists from all backgrounds, like Marina Abramovic, who has herself been accused of exploitation more than once–flashpoint artists like Kara Walker, who’s been both celebrated and denounced for her nuanced caricatures of slavery–and establishment white guys like Ed Ruscha who paints tasteful ephemeral phrases on gradients. It’s rare that bluechip artists gamble in internal institutional politics and rarer that they do so together, so it will be noticed by the typically risk-averse museum world.

Here is the letter, in full:

August 3, 2017

As members of the National Academy, we would like to voice our unequivocal support for Dana Schutz, who was recently excoriated by a group of Boston artists who were demanding that her current exhibition at the ICA in Boston be canceled, a demand meant to penalize Schutz, the artist behind Open Casket, a controversial painting featured at the 2017 Whitney Biennial, which draws on the well-known photograph of Emmett Till lying disfigured in his casket.

This painting is not included in the ICA exhibition.

As fellow artists and architects, we wholeheartedly support cultural institutions like the ICA-Boston who refuse to bow to forces in favor of censorship or quelling dialogue.

It is also of the utmost importance to us that artists not perpetrate upon each other the same kind of intolerance and tyranny that we criticize in others.

We support the ICA-Boston and its decision to exhibit the works of Dana Schutz, and to maintain programming that fosters conversations between people with different points of view, especially given our current political climate of intolerance.

Sig Abeles, NA

Marina Abramovic, NA-Elect

Stan Allen, NA

Polly Apfelbaum, NA

Dotty Attie, NA

Judith Bernstein, NA-Elect

Robert Birmelin, NA

Willard Boepple, NA

Richard Bosman, NA

Gregory Botts, NA

Pau Broches, NA-Elect

Henry Casselli, NA

Walter Chatham, NA

Chuck Close, NA

William Clutz, NA

Lisa Corinne Davis, NA-Elect

Donna Dennis, NA

Jane Dickson, NA

Rackstraw Downes, NA

Jackie Ferrara, NA-Elect

Louise Fishman, NA

Andrew Ginzel, NA

Jacqueline Gourevitch, NA

Philip Grausman, NA

Barbara Grossman, NA

Richard Haas, NA

Nancy Hagin, NA

Ann Hamilton, NA

Walter Hatke, NA

Julie Heffernan, NA

Nona Hershey, NA

Diana Horowitz, NA

David Humphrey, NA

Valerie Jaudon, NA

Roberto Juarez, NA

Harriet Korman, NA

Joyce Kozloff, NA

Tuck Langland, NA

Pat Lasch, NA

Jonathan Lasker, NA

Mel Leipzig, NA

Alfred Leslie, NA

James McGarrell, NA

Melissa Meyer, NA

Raoul Middleman, NA

John Moore, NA

John Newman, NA

Catherine Opie, NA-Elect

Tom Otterness, NA

Anthony Panzera, NA

Philip Pearlstein, NA

Judy Pfaff, NA-Elect

Ed Ruscha, NA-Elect

Joseph Santore, NA

Peter Saul, NA

Dread Scott, NA-Elect

Annabelle Selldorf, NA

Arlene Shechet, NA

Laura Shechter, NA

Cindy Sherman, NA-Elect

James Siena, NA

Elena Sisto, NA

Richard Sloat, NA

Joan Snyder, NA

Gary Stephan, NA

Jessica Stockholder, NA

Immi Storrs, NA

Altoon Sultan, NA

Barbara Takenaga, NA

Claire Van Vliet, NA

Don Voisine, NA

Kara Walker, NA-Elect

Susan Jane Walp, NA

Sharon Wandel, NA

Leslie Wayne, NA

Stephen Westfall, NA

Jack Whitten, NA-Elect

Staff reporter, Gizmodo. wkimball @ gizmodo



I generally empathized with the protest over the Emmett Till piece at the Whitney, and I thought Schutz’s response was weak as hell and full of privilege and entitlement.

But this protest is fucking stupid. This is the kind of ban you should reserve for people you believe to be malicious, as opposed to ignorant and insensitive.