The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland apologized after cancelling an exhibition about police brutality.

Daria Simone Harper
Jun 10, 2020 5:04PM, via New York Times

The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. Image via Flickr.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland has issued a public apology to artist Shaun Leonardo following its cancellation of his exhibition honoring victims of police violence. The show, “The Breath of Empty Space”—which includes charcoal drawings of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray, each of whom were killed in police custody—was set to open last week, and was cancelled in early March.

The institution said that it cancelled the show after receiving some negative feedback from local Black activists and some museum staff.

According to the New York Times, Jill Snyder, the museum’s director, stated:

This work stirs the trauma back up for the very community that it is intending to reach, and also that there is a way in which institutions like MoCA put that pain and trauma on display disrespectfully and somewhat gratuitously—that there is a performative aspect to our presentation of it.

On June 6th, Leonardo, who identifies as Afro-Latino, sent an email to his supporters sharing information about the cancellation of the exhibition. The institution published its apology the next day, claiming that it takes full responsibility for failing Leonardo and its community in this situation.

In the email to his followers, Leonardo wrote:

I must make it clear that I was never given the opportunity to be included in outreach, and therefore, never had a moment to engage any community member regarding the show. What has become evident to me, is that after grave mishandling of communication regarding the exhibition, institutional white fragility led to an act of censorship.

The exhibition was shown earlier this year without conflict at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore ( Freddie Gray was killed in Baltimore in police custody in 2015).

The apology comes as museums nationwide are confronting their contributions to systemic racism. Current protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) custody on May 25th have led some museums to cut ties with the police departments in their respective cities. In Minneapolis, the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Art announced that they would end their contracts with MPD. Shortly after, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago followed suit.

Further Reading: Gordon Parks’s 1960s Protest Photos Reflect the Long History of Police Brutality in the U.S.

Further Reading:

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