Blog / 2020 / All Press Is NOT Good Press.

February 7, 2020

My art was mentioned in a Newsweek article yesterday. I know that’s supposed to be an automatic happy dance, but me and my genetic predisposition for high blood pressure are just trying to not pass out right now.

All press is not good press when an art institution censors your work and then lies to the press in order to make it seem like it’s your fault.

Donald Trump holding a syringe full of bull crap and surrounded by the destruction of his Presidency
Gwenn Seemel
Hello Sh*tty, Available in a White House Near You! (Grab Him by His Pussy.)
2017
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
(Prints of this image available here.)

Quick back story: last year, I applied to show some paintings at an exhibition called Love and Fear organized by Studio Montclair Inc at the Montclair Public Library. SMI chose several pieces, but asked me to alter the title of the one shown here. I was fine with renaming the painting Hello Kitty President, because I was excited to have found a venue for displaying it.

SMI hung all the work, including Hello Sh*tty, and then removed Hello Sh*tty a half hour later, citing displeased library patrons and a supposed library policy against expletives. They ended up reinstalling the work after a Newsweek article about the censorship came out.

In that article, a Studio Montclair representative said that the “title of the piece on all our documentation was ‘Hello Kitty’” implying that I had misled the institution about the nature of the work. This is false. SMI knew the original title, and their email asking me to rename the piece proves that. When that first article came out ten months ago, I asked Studio Montclair to contact Newsweek to correct the lie. They didn’t.

Now Newsweek is repeating the lie about me in its new article about another anti-Trump artist, a student who’s been censored by her university. Which leaves me wondering:

What liability-deflecting lies might be swirling around this other artist? Will she ever recover from being thrown to the wolves by a cowardly institution?

I mean, I haven’t yet and I had the confidence of sixteen years as a professional artist to shore me up when institutions that are supposed to care about free speech—an artist collective and a public library—tried to blame me for their censorship of my art.

On some level, I get it. Institutions are terrified of the dictator currently squatting in the White House. But guess what? So am I, and, judging by her art, so is that student. And she and I have way more to lose than institutions if the bully-in-chief decides to target us.

So, to all the institutions that are having trouble refraining from censoring anti-Trump art or that can’t seem to avoid scapegoating the artists when they’re caught removing controversial work, this is my message:

Stop telling artists that they should know better. Take responsibility for failing to pay attention to the art that’s displayed in your space until the press shows up. Take responsibility for not communicating well among yourselves and with artists. Take responsibility for your own fear, because artists are tired of holding it for you.

UPDATE

February 10, 2020

Newsweek corrected both articles, preserving Studio Montclair’s lie in the first one, but making it clear that it was a lie and that I did not “ask for it” (the censorship) by trying to pull one over on the institutions.

I am not sure what made the paper do this today, when it ignored my resquest ten months ago. Perhaps this open letter to Studio Montclair, Montclair Public Library, and other cowardly institutions served as an open letter to Newsweek as well?


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