Chuck Close: When an art giant loses his wall space, who’s next?
The conversation won’t end with Chuck Close; “it starts with him,” said Priscilla Frank in HuffingtonPost.com. In late January, the National Gallery of Art pushed other museums and galleries into a deeper reckoning with how to handle the work of artists accused of serious misbehavior when it indefinitely postponed a planned exhibition of portraits by the celebrated realist. Since the first charges against Close surfaced in December, the 77-year-old paraplegic has been accused by several women of sexual misconduct during encounters in the past when they were asked to pose nude. Close has strongly denied he acted improperly, but institutions that show his work are being pressured to at least acknowledge the accusations against Close—and others. Last week, New York performance artist Emma Sulkowicz stripped to her underwear at two major city museums and stood in front of both a Close portrait and a Pablo Picasso painting wearing asterisks on her breasts. “An asterisk,” she said, “is such a small request.”
An asterisk would be fine, but those questioning whether museums should even be showing Close put us on “a terribly slippery slope,” said Cody Delistraty in The New York Times. Picasso, Paul Gauguin, and Caravaggio were all misogynists or worse, but no matter the merits of the #MeToo movement, we can’t erase such men from art history, and their work, like Close’s, has value that has no relation to their alleged misdeeds. If we start taking down nudes painted by objectionable men, said Steve Parks in Newsday, “what’s next—banning offending art books from libraries?” Such objections don’t mean we can’t acknowledge the full truth of the past and learn from it, said Elise Bell in DazedDigital.com. Male artists have been privileged throughout the centuries, while women have been sidelined, exploited, or abused. We “can’t and shouldn’t erase art history,” but “we can certainly stop history from repeating itself.” ■