Over the past week, Brooklyn College’s MFA exhibit has sparked fear and panic among New York officials. Let’s call it Sudden Empowered Dingbat Syndrome (SEDS).
Reports from several sources tell the story. The exhibition—entitled “Plan B”—was installed in a World War II memorial building owned by the city, a roomy venue that the college had used for this purpose in recent years. The day after the last week’s opening, the Borough Commissioner of Parks, Julius Spiegel, observed sexual content in the exhibit and ordered that it be closed immediately. Artists and others were told to leave the building, and the locks were changed. The official reason was that the show violated a verbal agreement covering use of the building, under which anything displayed must be “appropriate for families.” The artists say that they were never told of any restrictions.
Next, the infection spread to the provost of the college, Roberta S. Matthews. She decided not to oppose the Parks Department. Then she ordered a crew from the college to remove the artwork from the city building. In some cases, this meant removing site-specific installations. The artists were not told in advance. The workers assigned to the task were apparently not art handlers. They piled work into an open truck. A student quoted in the New York Times said that the movers damaged a sculpture that had taken her more than a year to create.
Catching the contagion, New York's mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, made a statement supporting the actions of the Parks official.
A civil rights attorney plans to file a First Amendment lawsuit on behalf of the students. A lawsuit for damage to the work has also been discussed. The Brooklyn College Faculty Council voted overwhelmingly to condemn “this act of censorship.” The college says that it has secured another venue for the show, but it’s not clear if the students will cooperate.
So far in this brouhaha, I don’t see any discussion of the peculiar notion that a war memorial should be “appropriate for families.” That could be a line from Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove.
Reports about this series of events have appeared in the New York Times, on the AP wire, and on a website, Plan C(ensored), created by the students.