A recent rmfa pop-up show of Beth Wittenberg's work
was abruptly taken down
Artist Beth Wittenberg was recently offered an opportunity to display her newest works, Beasts, Buildings & Storms in a pop-up show in downtown Rochester New Hampshire as part of the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts initiative to display art in unexpected places and revitalize the downtown. The first of (hopefully) many pop up shows was displayed in the former Carney Medical Supply in the street facing windows…but for unspecified reasons, was abruptly taken down less than a week after installation, and replaced with some slightly more innocuous art.
When asked if there was a reason for it's removal Matt Wyatt from the rmfa had this to say…
"There was technically no end date for the show. Pop up shows typically come and go with little explanation. I stand behind Beth's work and support her right to create whatever she feels."
So...is there a censorship controversy here?
maybe, just a bit…but probably not from folks at the rmfa, incidentally, now that it was taken down, I just happened to hear an ad for it on the radio….whoops!
Wyett reached out to express his concern when social media heated up with comments about the removal of the work.
"We were willing to take the risk and put the work out there publicly and it was clear to both parties that it may come down sooner than later. The rfma completely supports Beth's vision, and by focusing on it's removal after a week, we are detracting from all the great things that came from this show."
With Wittenberg a little unnerved by the early take down as her fans started heading to see the show, she wrote this note:
My name is Beth Wittenberg I am a contemporary artist living in Rochester, NH.
Imagine my delight when Matt Wyatt, the Director of the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts came to me and asked if I would like to exhibit my work in a large storefront in downtown Rochester. I was thrilled. I have been working on a series of ink drawings I call "beasts, buildings, and storms". This work is raw, unedited and contains graphic images some my consider violent as well as some profanity. The RMFA knew of its content and invited me to exhibit just the same.
Sunday evening, March 15th, I received a call from Mr. Wyatt saying he had some bad news. Letters had been written objecting to the artwork and that citizens were outraged.
Art is art and good art is provocative. The issue of censorship has been an unnecessary part of the art world since Judeo-Christian ethics became a part of American ideology. I am an artist and a visionary and making marks and writing poetry is part of my self expression. Art cannot be censored although some people try to. Art is language and free expression. I can only assume that the City of Rochester has a specific idea of what art is and what art should be. Better artists than I have been censored and so I say I am in good company.
It is disturbing that passionate self -expression does not fall under the First Amendment as it should. Monday, March 16, my artwork comes down from 32 North Main Street, the old Carney Medical Supply building in Rochester. The RMFA was proud to exhibit my artwork as was I. I think the City of Rochester has bigger issues to contend with than a few four letter words written as a form of self -expression. Main Street Rochester and the RMFA were attempting to bring arts and culture to Rochester's residence. They did for one week. Presently works from my series are being displayed in Kittery,ME at the Buoy gallery without issues of censorship. Art by its very nature refuses to be silenced.
The rmfa Facebook page posted the work as on exhibit everyday beginning March 10th from 6:30-midnight, (they did not specify an end date in the post). Wittenberg was given the impression the work would possibly stay up until April, and the idea was fully supported by rmfa, even in the face of a controversy about it's content. Plans for many to visit the site next week were thwarted after the surprise take down that happened suddenly on March 16, less than 6 days after it's installation and promotion and fans scrambled to get to the site.
Where are the complaints coming from? No one will say.
"We have vastly ignored any complaints about the vibrant language in the work, we are though, at the mercy of a private property, and the wishes of those owners. I will always support the artists voice and the freedom from censorship."
Their attempt to bring this work to the public through a private building is a massive effort by the rmfa to bring more art to a town that has had some difficulty accepting cultural shifts in the past, and this show, and all the chatter about it, can only serve to help jump start a wonderful relationship with local artists and the rmfa (as long as they can get the public on board).
Thankfully, Beth Wittenberg has posted a digital version of portions of this work for everyone to enjoy online, and is currently submitting proposals for gallery installations around New England and outside of the small city she currently calls home. Wittenberg is also showing a portion of the images at BOUY Gallery in Kittery as part of the artPM group show. She is also offering many of the images through a publication called INNERSCAPES, you can follow her on Facebook to keep updated on publication dates.
Art, Culture, Unity and Soul