Debate over a Chuck Close lithograph owned by Millbrook School and displayed at the Holbrook Arts Center inspired a discussion that culminated in an airing of student voices and a thought-provoking installation at the Warner Gallery.
Guerrilla Girls: Report Card, on display through the end of the year, is an exhibit specifically designed for Millbrook’s gallery space to accompany a consideration of controversial art and artists. This issue arose recently as students and faculty considered a school-owned lithograph by the realist painter Chuck Close, who has admitted to sexual misconduct. Sarah MacWright, Millbrook’s Arts Department chair, and Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Smith formed an informal advisory committee with IVth and Vth form students. Their task was to generate a response to the work and its future at Millbrook and to present their findings to Headmaster Drew Casertano.
In addition to the Close piece, the group considered art that glorified shameful and painful parts of history. Specifically, the committee considered the merits of covering up or destroying statues of so-called Confederate heroes in contrast to re-contextualizing them. This could include an explanation, via didactic, of the circumstances under which the art was created and its context within our current era.
The advisory committee also considered the Close lithograph at Millbrook and explored the relationship of artist to artwork. Their discussion focused on whether the work of an artist can be appreciated in spite of poor personal conduct or character of the artist. Advised by MacWright and Smith, the students settled on a multifaceted approach to presenting their findings.
Rather than suggesting removal of the Close lithograph, the committee wrote a didactic to accompany the piece, providing context for both the artist and the work. They also penned a letter to Millbrook’s editors of the school newspaper, The Silo, and presented their findings to Headmaster Casertano.
Finally, the committee requested an exhibition by Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous feminist artist collective. The Guerrilla Girls wear rubber gorilla masks in public, masking their identities while bringing attention to the pervasive gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequities in the world of fine art. Their stark, text-heavy, and fact-based work has been seen by millions worldwide. Anonymity via the masks allows the activist artists the freedom to criticize and create freely within the art world. As director of the Warner Gallery, MacWright reached out to the Guerrilla Girls, described the Chuck Close situation, and outlined the findings of the advisory board. The Guerrilla Girls then created an exhibit that addressed larger issues of inequality and included work by current Millbrook students.
Prominently and arrestingly displayed in the Warner Gallery, the exhibit has encouraged the development of one or two VIth form CES projects, some college essays, and a lot of conversation around Millbrook.
See additional images from the Guerrilla Girls exhibit here