Hundreds call for reckoning with American artist Thomas Eakins’s troubling legacy

by AryanArtnews
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Until this past summer, the public digital collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia contained disturbing photographs of a naked black girl lying on the couch. The photographs, which were subsequently removed from the PAFA website and used only for research purposes due to their “delicate nature”, were taken by one of Philadelphia’s most famous artists, Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), around 1882. Was taken in.Currently, more than 200 artists, artists, philanthropists and others have signed open letters. Removed public tribute to Philadelphia’s local government, PAFA, and other agencies in the city, African-American girl nude leaning on the couch And a companion image of a young girl facing the other side of the camera.

“We will remove the name Thomas Eakins from all landmarks. It is a privilege to be recognized by the community, not the right. Ekins has lost this consideration,” the letter partially reads. “All historical and artistic material should include a full description of Thomas Eakins and why his name was removed from public statues and compliments.” Signatories include artists JaTovia Gary and Xaviera Simmons. , A group of guerrilla girls, Fred Moten, a scholar.

The campaign is led by artist and educator Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter. Philadelphia Inquirer In October, he accused the city of worshiping Ekins, despite evidence of his abusive and exploitative behavior. “What’s at stake here is that people are reluctant to consider archiving these violences,” says Baxter. “Even in his time, people were away from Ekins.”

Baxter created an attempt to perform some of the restoration work she feels the city and its arts institutions have failed. Dedication to Mary (2021), a series of photographic works she developed using a historic process to protect and protect a girl with a photo of Ekins, an unnamed black girl.The series was included in a group exhibition Meeting: Selected family Held earlier this year at the Martos Gallery in New York, curator Nicole R. Fleetwood will be hosting an exhibition at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Marking time: Art in the age of mass imprisonment April 2022.

Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter, Dedication to Mary (2021) Artist courtesy

“It’s a difficult photo to involve people, so my job was to make it something people could actually see and rethink the safe and protected moments they should be,” says Baxter. She approached PAFA this summer about getting high-quality images of photos she could work on, but complained about the slowness of the facility and not wanting to include her in the process that started accordingly. Say I felt it. “This was a sexual predator with very bad documentation, so PAFA resigned him. They didn’t want to have anything to do with him when he was in school.”

In 1886, PAFA resigned Ekins from the education position after pulling a loincloth of a male model in front of a drawing class.2005 Biography of Art Historian Henry Adams Revealed Ekins: The Secret Life of an American Artist It details patterns of sexual harassment and psychological abuse, as well as allegations that include Ekins’ niece committing suicide after seducing her.

“PAFA is supporting efforts to combat the traumatic history of the United States,” a spokesman for the agency said in a statement. “We believe this is an important learning moment for our wider community. We have already started this learning in a student program earlier this month and by a key visiting scholar scheduled for spring. We are preparing a public program. We invite our citizens and fellow artists to this process. “

In Baxter’s view, PAFA was unable to include her and her work in the process, including the December 1st art school student event “Archive Ethics.” As a participant. In the topic of this event, led by two members of the school’s Department of Liberal Arts, we aimed to “critically reflect on and unleash our responsibility to the living community.”

“I don’t think this includes artists who worked hard to take this and the black community into account,” says Baxter. “We are the ones most hurt by this discovery and their negligence.”

Today, Ekins is respected throughout Philadelphia and its arts institutions. Ekins’ former home and studio on Mount Vernon Street in 1729 was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965 (now home to the public art non-profit mural art Philadelphia). The large, well-maintained transportation island in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) hosts the city’s annual holiday on the 4th of July, and is named Eakins Oval.

The PAFA collection includes more than 850 works that span photographs, drawings and paintings. One of PMA’s main attractions is a cinematic representation of the operating room in the late 19th century. Gross Clinic (1875), Museum and PAFA kept in Philadelphia only after an enthusiastic fundraising campaign In 2008, works had to be removed from the collection in order to raise $ 68 million in which the National Museum of American Art and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Washington, DC offered to acquire paintings.

In some circles Gross Clinic Is considered one of the best American paintings ever made, but the signer of this month’s letter said that the canvas quote should also take into account Ekins’ actions and disturbing photographs such as: Claims to be African-American girl nude leaning on the couch.. They are demanding that those photos be forwarded to African-American institutions and that they “formally apologize for dealing directly with the black community.”

In late 2017, PAFA chose to continue exhibiting Chuck Close’s photographs after allegations of sexual misconduct. Opposition to the artist has come to light. Rather than removing Close’s work, the agency held a community forum and a pop-up exhibition of artwork addressing power and gender issues.

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