What is Schutz saying in Casket”? What might have been communicated if Schutz started making dozens of miniature oil paintings and painstakingly took up photorealism to help mark 400 hours of reproducing the image of Till over and over again like a monk dedicating himself to relearning painting and expressing fidelity to the subject matter? Listen, that’s just how I might go about it. But I hope to make the point that the "how” is as important as the “why” when images of this type, with all their shared history and pain, are used and re-presented to the public. Can Schutz invoke her (White) privilege to bring this image Casket into the public space without considering how HER biography, modes of production and style might offend? I think failing to consider THAT is offensive. Antwuan Sargent in his article Unpacking the Firestorm around the Whitney Biennial Black Death Spectacle suggests maybe the names if Emmett Till’s assailants or their likeness (perhaps reduced in the manner in the manner Schutz did Till) might have been better directions for Schutz. As a critique, I took this to heart and would like to tell Mr. Sargent I read this and was listening, Sir. Thank you.
From a Good Place: Subverting the Politics of the Other
Hannah Black, an artist and writer who lives in Berlin and was born in London had a more extreme critique of Schutz’s work. She asserted via social media and started a petition to demand the painting should be destroyed. That petition has been amended to dis-include all White artists and Museum workers who had signed it before being taken down altogether. I am against censoring artists and any call or petition to destroy creative work - songs, writings, sculptures, paintings, photographs or other modes of artistic production. I am for DIALOGUE and even powerfully emotional discourses that have the goal of expressing an opinion AND at their heart a search for understanding. I do not dismiss Hannah Black’s emotion or her rallying / enlisting her community to speak out on the inclusion of Casket in the Biennial. I take issue with her call to destroy the work. Additionally, people are too concerned, in this author’s opinion, with what money or cachet Schutz might receive for this artwork. She is already on the inside, she already has cachet as she has been included in the Biennial and likely gets paid handsomely for what she does. Can one really strip her of her voice, income or platform? Build your own!
At last that brings me to the fake letter purported to be written by Dana Schutz that made the news cycle yesterday. Part of this letter explained in detail how its author thought the Casket painting should be sold or not, and how Schutz would pay reparations for the painting and amendments to the catalog:
I now join them in calling for the immediate removal of Open Casket. I have already promised the work will never be for sale, and I will also promise to make it impossible for the work to re-enter the public sphere. I also plan to redirect all funds from the sales of my other paintings included in the Biennial towards the Black liberation movement. Finally, out of continued respect for those harmed by the work, I ask that the catalog and the press in the future and retroactively remove all images of the work from circulation, and replace it with images of the work’s subsequent protest.
At the time, I am writing this I am under the impression that the author of that letter is still unknown. What is known is someone turned cultural appropriation on its head taking it a step further to become impersonation! Literally speaking "for the other." This is an ingenious mode of subverting a history rife with people overstepping and speaking for large groups of others - be they men speaking for women, White speaking for Black, etc. This turns the idea of cultural appropriation on its head! By using the anonymity of the digital space, someone was able (before scrutiny and before Schutz had wind of it) to purport to speak in her voice. I can just imagine the person hitting the send button on the computer saying "Alright, see how it feels Dana!" in a world with terms like "fake news" and "alternative facts" the power and timeliness of this interaction with the politics of identity, media and perception is mind-blowing.
White Privilege – Ultimately I am Dana Schutz
I never have ever spoken for Black people. And similarly, I do not speak for a great White monolith. I'm just one person with a specific perspective. I have spoken from my perspective about my peers and our shared concerns. I don't feel or represent that in my work the way that they would feel or act. I feel what I feel, make what I'm compelled to make, and will continue to push hard to include an ever-growing GLOBAL set of people and concerns in my work and see that simultaneously the world is filled with more empathy and justice.
You might have no choice about carrying your specific racial identity around with you. And to you out there feeling the weight of that and perhaps social stigma from that or from your religious convictions or if you are worried ICE is around the corner because of your national origin, I owe you an apology. The thing is, two years into the Obama administration I started to really believe we might be entering a "post-racial" period in American history and I turned my focus to issues of gender and masculinity in my production and for the most part stopped dealing with race as my primary impetus for art production. THAT is perhaps the truest kind of White privilege. I got tired. Tired, I put the yoke down. Because I am White. I don't have to carry it, right? To my allies, I admit I got to a point where I was wondering if the racial nature of my work might be keeping me out of (Black and White) gallery spaces. Could I “broaden” the scope of my work to more universal topics or what I thought were broader perspectives? Well, I'm clocking back in. “45” is president. Synagogues are being threatened with bombs, dozens of little Black girls in DC are going missing, Muslims are being persecuted and daily we are seeing legislation coming down the pike meant to break lower income and underserved communities (looking at you poor Whites).
I approach every painting I do that isn't a self-portrait (and even some of them) AS AN OUTSIDER. Looking in, searching for understanding, hoping for truth and if I get it even close to right or you can say "amen" to it, I am pleased.