In contrast to the screams that the Harper’s Letter was signed by famous wealthy celebrities trying to protect their terf from the voices of the oppressed and marginalize, there is the barely audible whimpering of Gary Garrels.
Who? Gary Garrels. You know, that fabulously wealthy celebrity who . . . oh wait. He’s nobody you would know unless you happen to be in the bowels of the art world.
Until last week, Gary Garrels was senior curator of painting and sculpture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). He resigned his position after museum employees circulated a petition that accused him of racism and demanded his immediate ouster.
He resigned, which may be a product of his taking the pressure off his employer to fire him, because his colleagues who petitioned for his removal were rather harsh about it.
“Gary’s removal from SFMOMA is non-negotiable,” read the petition. “Considering his lengthy tenure at this institution, we ask just how long have his toxic white supremacist beliefs regarding race and equity directed his position curating the content of the museum?”
Wow. What sort of heinous racism was this guy, a senior curator of painting and sculpture at SFMOMA, long a hotbed of white supremacy, doing?
After hearing of events that occurred at an All-Staff Meeting on Tuesday, July 7, 2020 we call for Gary Garrels to resign or be removed from his position as Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. As Senior Curator, he represents the museum in tone and content. Through actions and words, Gary has been obtuse (at best) to the point of offense or deliberately racist (at worst) in his retorts to criticism. When pressed on the museum’s collecting policies he has repeatedly said some variation of “don’t worry, we will continue to collect white male artists.” Amongst SFMOMA staff as well as in public view, Gary has used and continued to use white supremacist and racist language such as “reverse racism.” This has been documented.
What sort of Nazi would openly say, at a museum no less, that Picasso was still welcome? What’s next, Warhol? It’s almost like demanding that museum employees call him “Master,” and so they petitioned the lord in prayer.
Gary’s removal from SFMOMA is non-negotiable. Considering his lengthy tenure at this institution, we ask just how long have his toxic white supremacist beliefs regarding race and equity directed his position curating the content of the museum? Furthermore, is any more evidence required to prove that these viewpoints are cavalierly wielded by staff members in the most extreme positions of leadership and power and setback long-term progress towards a more inclusive institution?
That escalated quickly, from “obtuse” to “toxic white supremacist” in three paragraphs. All because his notion of “inclusivity” didn’t mean excluding white artists. I’m literally shaking.
You might think that one of the most prominent art curators in the country—with 20 years of experience at SFMOMA—would be able to weather such a pathetically weak accusation of racism. But in the current cultural moment, it appears not. Garrels promptly resigned.
In a statement announcing his decision to step down, Garrels apologized for the harm his words caused, only slightly disputing the absurd charge against him. ” I do not believe I have ever said that it is important to collect the art of white men,” he said, according to artnet.com. “I have said that it is important that we do not exclude consideration of the art of white men.”
No wonder Garrels’ termination was non-negotiable. He just doesn’t get it. And to further the cause of inclusivity, I will take all the Modigliani’s off their hands, maybe even a Jackson Pollack or a (ugh) Haring, so their diverse eyes never bleed again from the toxicity of modern art.
As for Garrels, he chose to walk away. Maybe staying was untenable in light of the petition, and its “non-negotiable” demand, but at least he wasn’t canceled by culture.