Art Market

The Metropolitan Museum and New Orleans Museum of Art were criticized for failing to address systemic racism.

Daria Simone Harper
Jun 25, 2020 4:54PM, via New York Times

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image via Flickr.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) are the latest cultural institutions to be called out for their role in upholding systemic racism. Last week, Keith Christiansen, the Met’s chairman of European paintings, posted on his personal Instagram page an image of Alexandre Lenoir, a French archaeologist who salvaged historic French monuments from the ruins of the French Revolution. In a statement accompanying the post, which has since been deleted, Christiansen wrote:

Alexandre Lenoir battling the revolutionary zealots bent on destroying the royal tombs in Saint Denis. How many great works of art have been lost to the desire to rid ourselves of a past of which we don’t approve. And how grateful we are to people like Lenoir who realized that their value—both artistic and historical—extended beyond a defining moment of social and political upheaval and change.

Detractors felt that the curator’s post was written in response to the recent removal of racist monuments, spurred heavily by protests over the death of George Floyd. The post was also published on Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved Black people in Texas in 1865, deepening accusations of Christiansen’s insensitivity.

The Met’s director, Max Hollein, told the New York Times:

There is no doubt that the Met and its development is also connected with a logic of what is defined as white supremacy. Our ongoing efforts to not only diversify our collection but also our programs, narratives, contexts and staff will be further accelerated and will benefit in urgency and impact from this time.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, ARTnews reported that former employees of NOMA issued a letter which referenced a 2019 exhibition that centered around the interior of a former plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana. The letter, signed by six former staffers, also noted that NOMA employs only one full-time Black staff member out of more than 20 directors, curators, and other leadership roles.

These incidents come as museums across the country are coming under fire for perpetuating racism within their institutions. On Sunday, the American Museum of Natural History announced its plan to remove a longstanding statue of Theodore Roosevelt, following years of criticism that it is a symbol of colonialism and white supremacy. Meanwhile, the Jewish Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim Museum are among the institutions that have received letters from former and current employees demanding changes to their cultures and practices.

Further Reading: Museums Are Becoming More Diverse, but There’s Still Work to Do

Daria Simone Harper
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019