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Proposal to AICA-USA for a Task Force on Censorship, Cancel Culture, and Iconoclasm

Post #1882 • December 8, 2020, 12:37 PM • 1 Comment

[Update 2021-01-04 at Comment #1.]

[Editor’s note: One month ago today, I sent the following letter to a board member at AICA-USA, copying our member liaison. After confirming receipt, the organization has not responded in any capacity, despite prompting. I am therefore publishing it as an open letter. Signatories were on the original and they have granted me permission to include them in the open letter as well. All are AICA-USA members. If you would like to add your name to the open letter, whether you’re a member or not, please email me at franklin@einspruch.com.

My purpose for publishing this as an open letter is to call upon the wider membership of AICA-USA, members and leadership of our parent organization, AICA International, and the art community as a whole to encourage the co-presidents and board of AICA-USA either to support this initiative, or to articulate their objections to it. I am willing to publish their reply at Artblog.net.]

Subject: proposal for a task force on censorship, cancel culture, and iconoclasm
Date: November 8, 2020
From: Franklin Einspruch
To: Noah Dillon

Dear Noah,

I’m addressing you today in your role as co-chair of our Professional Issues committee. I recognize that you, chiefly among the board, want to make the organization more active in combating censorship. You’ve mentioned a partnership in the works with the National Coalition Against Censorship and have written about the topic for AICA-USA’s magazine. This is laudable and I thank you for your efforts.

That said, 2020 has made it clear that censorship is only one aspect of the contemporary attacks on free expression. There is also cancel culture, the effort to deprive purveyors of oppositional views (defined however) of opportunities to present them, and to damage them materially and reputationally. There is also a new wave of iconoclasm, a phenomenon we all studied in our first semester of art history, come back to us in a secular, political form. The United States has witnessed the defacement or destruction of dozens of public art objects memorializing figures who fought for abolition, equality, and justice.

I therefore propose to form a Task Force on Censorship, Cancel Culture, and Iconoclasm within AICA-USA in an official capacity. The purpose of the Task Force would be to produce timely, responsible statements on behalf of the organization against attacks on free expression in the context of visual art and its institutions, informed by deep knowledge of art history and expert critical analysis. It would furthermore promote the physical and moral defense of works of art as required by AICA-USA’s bylaws.

This proposal is prompted by the organization’s lack of response to the controversy regarding “Phillip Guston Now,” in which censorship, cancel culture, and iconoclasm all play a role. As co-president Judith Stein correctly noted in our recent all-members meeting, the situation is complicated and moving quickly. Nevertheless, it is obvious whose side we should have taken: that of Robert Storr, who after all is the main art writer associated with this exhibition, and who is critical of the museum directors’ handling of it. We also ought to have stood up for Mark Godfrey, senior curator at the Tate Modern and author of one of the essays in the Guston catalogue, whom the Tate suspended for condemning the decision to postpone the show. AICA-USA’s silence about this situation is negligent. Our failure to support our colleagues strikes me as traitorous. A task force committed to such issues, and empowered to respond to them swiftly and authoritatively, is much needed.

I hope that you appreciate the urgency of this proposal and that I and the undersigned can depend on your support to realize it. I pledge to volunteer my efforts as an AICA-USA member to help bring it into being and make it effective. Thank you for your kind consideration.

Yours,

Franklin Einspruch

Signatories on the original letter:

Michelle Kamhi
Richard Kostelanetz
Saul Ostrow
Peter Plagens
Alan Pocaro

Signatories on the open letter:

Warren Craghead
Dana Gordon
James Panero
D. Morgan Russell
Loraine Stephanson

Comment

1.

Franklin

January 4, 2021, 4:30 PM

AICA-USA, in particular, both co-chairs of the Professional Issues Committee and both co-presidents, responded to this letter on December 11. Details of the response constitute organizational business that I'd prefer not to share. That said, I'm satisfied that this proposal was discussed internally at some length and considered seriously, and I'm encouraged that it will be pursued further pending the resolution of some other matters in the organization. I thank AICA-USA for their reply.

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