A last minute decision to move a painting explicitly criticizing president-elect Donald Trump to a smaller separate gallery during a Pennsylvania art show is raising concerns in the free speech community.
The gouache painting by Brian Wiggins entitled “FUCK TRUMP” was initially submitted to be included in Allentown Art Museum’s exhibit Hues of Red and Blue: The 2016 Presidential Election, but due to complaints prior to the show’s opening, it was abruptly relocated from the main museum to the neighboring RE:find Gallery on the Walk. Concerned about the blunt message the 11″ x 14″ piece portrayed, the Pennsylvania community urged the museum to move the piece from the main exhibit which displayed works by 20 different artists, many of which also criticized Trump, doing so less bluntly in comparison to Wiggins’ piece.
In light of the turbulent political climate this past year, the Allentown Art Museum planned the exhibit to portray an array of pieces that “challenged artists to respond to the upcoming presidential election and the issues surrounding it.” The exhibit, which opened in October and ran through November, showcased pieces in multiple mediums, presenting what was described as “critiques, lampoons, and straight-on representations of the candidates, their supporters, and issues being discussed this hectic election season.” Displayed in both the Payne Hurd Gallery as well as the RE:find Gallery on the Walk, the exhibit shaped up to be a discussion-worthy event.
The decision to move Wiggins’ painting from the main gallery has brought an entirely different kind of discussion to the table, though. As NCAC notes, “In these polarizing times, political art provides a much needed forum to highlight concerns and differences,” adding:
Museums are the perfect platforms to host such a conversation, but are they prepared to handle the inevitable push-back? The relocation of “FUCK TRUMP” raises the suspicion that this is not the case in Allentown, and that the Museum, for all its good intentions, shies away from works that wear their political passions on their sleeves.
Allentown Art Museum isn’t the first museum to succumb to political and social pressure when it comes to displaying pieces. Security concerns and fear of public outrage led the Victoria & Albert Museum in London to remove a devotional image of the prophet Mohammad from its displays last year. The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art faced controversy when a commissioner called a Hi-Fructose art exhibit “offensive,” “obscene,” and “anti-Christian.”
As venues for discussion, one would hope that museums would leave personal opinions to the publics’ examination of the pieces themselves and not in the curating process, but sometimes outside pressure just seems to be too much, leading to situations like the one in Allentown.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!