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Madison Museum Under Fire Due to Racism Allegations

Fine arts museums have always had issues with inclusion and positive portrayals of race. 

A group of Black women has decried the organizers of the Wisconsin Triennial from the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art for institutional racist violence.

Nearly half of the 23 artists set to display their work in the regional art show have withdrawn their works as a sign of protest, following the circulation of an open letter that calls out the museum’s “shameful mistreatment of the Black artists, contractors, and staffers throughout the exhibition.”

The open letter also stated that the triennial participants who withdrew their works received any support whatsoever from the institution.

The museum made excuses to promote its work through social media channels and didn’t organize additional programming to highlight its participation in the triennial.

The letter accuses the MMoCA and the Overture as clear examples of institutional racist violence and that a $250 individual honorarium payment to each participating artist is well below the museum’s suggested percentage. 

For comparison, the MMoCA has an operating budget of $3 million. Surely they could manage a little more than $250 per artist participating in the triennial.

It all began with the vandalism of an installation by Madison-based artist Lilada Gee. A white employee accosted Gee while she was being escorted throughout the museum, and she left the work unfinished in response to their rudeness.

The installation was put on display despite being incomplete. It was then defaced with paint and glitter by a family who visited with their children and mistook it for an interactive aspect of the art.

2022 Triennial opened in April and is expected to run through October, curated by Fatima Laster.

The open letter demanded the resignation of MMoCA director Christina Brungaard. The Triennial theme is I’m not a woman?  and would serve as one of its first exhibitions displaying works of primarily black women and non-binary artists.

It’ll also be the first triennial in the history of the museum to feature guest curators.

The leadership reaffirmed the support of Christina Brungaard and praised her leadership, professionalism and support for the museum to be an influential, globally recognized institution that prioritizes equity and inclusion.

Lilada G, was verbally assaulted by a former employee of a nearby arts center, and his art was harmed by the audience. 

In response, the Madison Museum of Wisconsin has denied the allegations and stated that they were inappropriate and unfounded. The executive committee at least apologized to Gee and accepted that the situation caused her pain.

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