Sunday, January 21, 2018

#MeToo and The Art World

The art world continues to rock with yet more #MeToo accusations. Below I've commented and summarised in terms of:
  • Why we need more differentiation on #metoo
  • Accusations within the world of art - the artists
  • Offending artists from the past
  • Responses from artists
  • Changes in the art world
    • the art fairs
    • the galleries

The need for gradations of #metoo

The need for more precision?

I'm beginning to think that there needs to be gradations of the #MeToo labelling phenomenon in terms of the various "outings" of prominent people and others.

Something along the lines of:
  1. seriously not OK / inappropriate behaviour (unwelcome words not actions)
  2. crude, lewd and lascivious harassment (unwelcome / more than 1 and less than 2)
  3. sexual assault (actionable in law)
  4. rapist (re adults)
  5. paedophile (re under the age of consent)
This is because:

  • while I'm 100% in favour of calling people out on seriously unwelcome and inappropriate behaviour and worse, 
  • I ALSO really do think we need something which is rather less vague than #MeToo and rather more specific as to just how serious the accusation is.

Otherwise we are in serious danger of confusing an unwelcome pat on the knee or a bottom with the rape of a young teenager.

We also need to remember that
  • women can say 'No' or 'Stop It!' and walk out the door etc. just as others have done in the pat and will do in the future
  • AND that there's a fine line between speaking out and a witch hunt
  • AND that men have already killed themselves because of accusations being made...
  • it is at least possible, that some of the accusations are not true or do not accurately reflect what actually happened.
I'm saying this mindful that in reproducing links below I am channeling some of those accusations and allegations - and the simple truth is I don't KNOW what's happened and what has not. Nor do you. So we need to be circumspect to a degree. The question is what's the appropriate degree....

In summary:
  • I'm supportive of women who have been abused - including their right to speak out even if they're not bringing a legal action 
  • AND I'm not in favour of "witch hunts", hysteria or the type of person who likes to draw attention to themselves for all the wrong reasons.
Of one thing I am absolutely certain.

There is a LOT more abuse, both past and present, than many people realise 

Of itself, that is for me reason enough for the abuse issues within the art world - whether individual and personal or generic and institutional - to be discussed and debated.

Speaking personally, my small contribution is that I ALWAYS speak out and tell a gallery when I'm offended by a sexualised artwork they are showing - and explain why they should have a rethink (within the context of likely abuse) - not least because I'm aware of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (summary as PDF) - even if they are very obviously not!

Accusations within the world of art - the artists

Chuck Close

These started before Christmas and I'm guessing more than a few chins dropped on this one. Not least because the man is a paraplegic so there's no way anybody is getting assaulted without being able to escape first.

I confess, like the letter writer highlighted by the New York Times below, I'm simply amazed that people should remain in situations they're uncomfortable with when they have the option to walk.

As a supporter of the #MeToo movement, I must take issue with the article about Chuck Close’s alleged harassment of women. I read nothing to indicate that these women were forced into compromising positions, threatened, physically assaulted or contacted repeatedly. If his admittedly frank, and sometimes puerile, approach to talking about the nude body made them uncomfortable, the women had every right to set limits or walk away. Carol Wax - artist in New York

Anthony d'Offay

The British art dealer, collector, curator and ex-Gallery owner Anthony d'Offay, age 78, is the latest person to have accusations and allegations about inappropriate past behaviour levelled against him - by four women.  He categorically denies the claims made. A police investigation is allegedly ongoing.

The current accusations/investigation was prompted by an image on Instagram which has since been taken down.

Some might cite the allegations made as a 'generational issue'. Others might describe them as being typical of perennial problems experienced by women in the workplace. The reality at present is they are allegations and not proven fact.

d'Offay created the Artists Rooms project after giving much of his multi-million-pound collection to the Tate 10 years ago.


Offending artists in the past

On top of all of that:
  • there's what people paint......
  • there's the issue of whether you can divorce the artwork from the artist
For some reason most of the people arguing that it's perfectly possible to like the art and not approve of the artist seem to be men!

For me personally, there are issues to do with some paintings by some artists in some art galleries.

I would personally argue that many women could explain to any men who cared to listen why they go beyond 'the line' of what is acceptable and what is not. In other words to what extent do the paintings represent the explicit proclivities of an individual artist.


I'm using Balthus (1908-1921) as an example. There are some very different views about whether a certain painting should have been shown.

A petition was started by Mia Merrill calling for the Metropolitan Museum of Art to remove a particularly “suggestive” painting Thérèse Dreaming by Balthus.  The petition states
“Given the current climate around sexual assault and allegations that become more public each day, in showcasing this work for the masses, The Met is romanticizing voyeurism and the objectification of children,” 
Note the gender of those writing articles in defence of the Met. and against censorship below.

Some make the point that Balthus always denied accusations of paedophilia - to which my response would be "Why am I not surprised?" and a denial does not make it a fact. I'd like to know their views on why they think an artist would create erotic paintings of female children.

It is undeniable that the painting is creepy, especially considering Balthus’ own predilection for underage girls. Born in Paris to Polish expatriate parents, he often painted girls in eroticised poses, yet always denied any paedophilia charges.

Eric Gill

Shouting people down on the grounds that censorship should not apply to the arts is to miss the point.  There are artists who are known to have been abusers of children - Eric Gill being a case in point

Eric Gill has presented great challenges and created qualms for a number of years. It doesn't help that we keep being reminded of him whenever we look at the entrance to the BBC!

His abusive behaviour has led to activities which aim to address those concerns as exemplified by an exhibition and associated activities last year
Eric Gill was one of the great British artists of the 20th century – and a sexual abuser of his own daughters. A new exhibition at Ditchling asks: how far should an artist’s life affect our judgment of their work? (The Guardian)
Since Fiona MacCarthy’s biography of Gill in 1989, the artist’s polymorphous sexual life had come to be a matter of public consciousness. The list of Gill’s crimes and misdemeanours included a long-term incestuous relationship with his sister, Gladys, and a variety of obsessive sexual experiments, many of them recorded meticulously in his diaries. Not even the dog, it seems, was safe from Gill’s curiosity. The most powerful scandal, however, was the revelation that Gill had engaged in sexual behaviour with his pubescent daughters, behaviour which Gill seems to have viewed in the same spirit of fearless experiment, but which by anyone else’s definition would count as sexual abuse. (Apollo)
PS Did you know he designed the Gill Sans font?

Rolf Harris

One article quoted above included the following
Artwork produced by Rolf Harris, who was sentenced for indecent acts against children in 2014, has been removed from countless places.
In an interview in The Telegraph one owner of one of his paintings explained what he planned to do with a painting by Harris, “I’m planning a bonfire.. my preparedness to have Rolf Harris’s daubs on my wall is affected by my views of the man

Graham Ovendon

A court this week ordered the destruction of portraits belonging to artist and sex offender Graham Ovenden on grounds of indecency – to the dismay of some observers. The question of how to treat such objects is not going away
Graham Ovendon was Ovenden founded the Brotherhood of Ruralists in 1975. He was prosecuted in 2009 for creating indecent pictures but was not convicted but it did not stop there...
In 2013, Ovenden was found guilty of six charges of indecency with a child and one charge of indecent assault against a child, and on 9 October 2013, he was jailed for two years and three months by the Court of Appeal. Following his conviction, some galleries removed images of his work from display. In 2015, a judge ordered that Ovenden's personal collection of paintings and photographs be destroyed. (Wikipedia)
What troubled Judge Roscoe was that some of the images “appear to be sexually provocative. Some, whether overtly or not, evoke poses by adult women that are intended to be sexually alluring.” She was assessing the images, she said, “on the basis of the ‘recognised standards of propriety’ which exist today”.

Responses from artists

The newspapers and journals are beginning to document the artistic responses of those who wanted to make artwork in response to the situation of women - before and after #MeToo took off

Just try putting "#MeToo art" into Google.


Changes in the art world - the galleries and exhibitions

The Art Fairs

I hesitate to say - but I do believe there's some evidence that #MeToo might be becoming "fashionable". There was even a panel discussion on “Feminist Art for a New Era”.
Visitors to Art Basel Miami Beach couldn't ignore gender inequality this year
This year’s collection of installations and exhibits showcased a variety of female artists using their work to speak out against rape culture

Art Exhibitions

There's a whole range of responses

In New York, an artist held a demonstration at the opening of an exhibition at Met Breuer by an artist who is alleged to have raped her.

While down in Ditchling in Sussex we saw a very different approach last year in terms of the exhibition of work by Eric Gill. This seems to offer a model for one way forward - in the sense that the exhibition organisers were aware of the need to be sensitive to those who may view the exhibition.
Eric Gill: The Body will feature 80 works on loan from public and private collections, including works featuring his daughter Petra that were made at the time of his abuse of her.

The exhibition has taken over two years to put together. The museum worked with child sex abuse survivor organisations on the impact the exhibition could have on those who experienced abuse, and the language it uses. It also sought PR advice from other museums, and guidance from the Museums Association (MA) on the requirements of its Code of Ethics. (Museums Jounal)

That's a possible solution for the exhibition side - and one which might provide a standard for "what to do" in future when exhibiting work by a known abuser.


The Galleries

There is also the issue of how things work within the closeted world of art galleries and museums.

The Guardian reported last week that...
At least 10 investigations into sexual misconduct have taken place at Britain’s largest galleries and museums over the past four years.
Jackie Wullschlager, the FT's chief art critic commented last week
....power wielded by art-world figures over the lives and careers of younger women — especially in independent single-owner galleries — was comparable to that in the film and theatre industry, where similar accusations have recently been levelled
I think the implication is clearly that the opportunities for gallery owners to abuse their position and powerbase certainly exist.


I don't suppose this is the last we've heard of the abuse of women in the art world in 2018.

Your views are welcome - however do think carefully about you express them as I will be unable to publish any which don't think about the libel laws.

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