The Guerrilla Girls are setting out to help museums that are struggling with the fallout from #MeToo. Using Chuck Close’s portrait of Bill Clinton as a case study, the anonymous feminist art collective has created wall labels to show the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, and other institutions how to acknowledge an artist accused of sexual misconduct.
The Guerrilla Girl who goes by the name Kathe Kollwitz tells artnet News that they were in Washington, DC, last February and noticed that the official portrait of President Clinton was painted by Chuck Close: “One accused sexual predator painting another!” she says.
The collective saw this as a “great chance” to reimagine museums’ responses to the #MeToo movement. “In every institution there is probably [a debate] going on right now, trying to figure it out.” Kollwitz says. “We thought we’d help them.”
In their signature poster style, the collective created a banner featuring three sample wall texts for Chuck Close, who has been accused of sexually harassing his models, in typical museum layout and font. The work appeared in an exhibition of protest art, “From Nope to Hope,” that closed this past weekend in London.
The first of the three captions makes no mention of either the allegations against Close or Clinton, and goes on to describe the artist as one of the most important of his generation. This text, the Guerrilla Girls label as appropriate for museums “afraid of alienating billionaire trustees and collectors who donated the work.”
The second caption, “for museums conflicted about disclosing and artist’s abuse next to his art,” includes the cryptic sentence: “Like many artists, [Close] has had a few disgruntled employees.”
The third and final caption is the longest. It mentions specifically that he has been “accused of sexually abusing models,” and denounces the art world for tolerating abuse “because it believes art is above it all, and rules don’t apply to ‘genius’ white male artists,” and ends on with the declaration: “WRONG!”
Close told the New York Times in December that he apologized if he had made women feel uncomfortable. He agreed that he spoke candidly and crudely about their bodies, but denied that his comments, or his requests for them model in the nude, amounted to harassment.
“Last time I looked, discomfort was not a major offense,” he told the Times. “I never reduced anyone to tears, no one ever ran out of the place. If I embarrassed anyone or made them feel uncomfortable, I am truly sorry, I didn’t mean to. I acknowledge having a dirty mouth, but we’re all adults.”
In January, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, cancelled its Chuck Close show because of the allegations. The artist told the Times that he felt “crucified” by the accusations. The institution and Chuck Close did not respond to requests for comment.
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