Should The ICA Pull Their Dana Schutz Exhibition?

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Dana Schutz's 2009 painting "Swimming, Smoking, Crying," which is featured in her ICA exhibition. (Courtesy the artist and Petzel, New York)
Dana Schutz's 2009 painting "Swimming, Smoking, Crying," which is featured in her ICA exhibition. (Courtesy the artist and Petzel, New York)

In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally murdered by two white men in Mississippi for supposedly "offending" a white woman. The child was beaten, tortured and drowned. Till's mother, Mamie, brought her son home to Chicago. She insisted on an open casket at his funeral. A photograph of Emmett's body, published in Jet magazine, to this day remains one of the most searing, undeniable images of white violence on black Americans.

"Let the people see what I've seen," Mamie Till said. She wanted the world to see what those men had done to her son.

Emmett Till would have turned 76 on July 25.

These many years later, racism must still be confronted. But what happens when a white artist does so by painting an image of Emmett Till? Is it empathy, or appropriation? And should modern day art institutions support such artists?

Those are the intense questions swirling about a new exhibition which opened Wednesday at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

It features the work of abstract painter Dana Schutz. In 2016, she painted an abstracted image of Till in a work titled "Open Casket." It was put on display at the Whitney Museum in New York and was immediately controversial. Protesters demanded that the painting be removed, even destroyed.

The painting is not part of the ICA's exhibit of Schutz's work, but in an open letter to the ICA's chief curator, a group of local artists say exhibiting any of Schutz's work is "in line with a long tradition of white supremacy obscuring and ultimately erasing narratives of the continued genocide of Black and indigenous peoples."

"Please pull the show," they write. "This is not about censorship. This is about institutional accountability."


Eva Respini, chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art. She tweets @curatorontherun.

Barbara Lewis, the director of the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black History and Culture at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is one of the contributing writers to the letter to the ICA. She tweets @trotterinstitut.

Steven Locke, a visual artist and associate professor of art education at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. He tweets @steve_locke.

This segment aired on July 27, 2017.


Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.


Jamie Bologna Senior Producer/Director, Radio Boston
Jamie Bologna was senior producer and director of Radio Boston.



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