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Museums Take On Trump

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At Sartle, we fully believe that museums are pretty much the tits. Of course, we understand that not everyone holds these beliefs. There will always be naysayers who complain about their sore feet, overzealous security guards, and a pretentious outdated air to them. Well I am here to try to shake one of those beliefs. Museums do not live in the past and are not non-partisan. In fact, many museums entrench themselves in current political issues and have decided to do what they can and stick it to the man!

So what’s got museums’ panties in a bunch now? In a nutshell: President Trump’s immigration ban. We’ve been mulling over this gem of an executive order for about three weeks, and while it has been temporarily halted, this has not stopped people from protesting the questionable order by any means necessary. Some have taken to the streets, others to social media. Museums on the other hand, have called upon their top curators to send the message to the Trump administration that our diverse culture is in fact what makes America great.

MoMA

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Just four blocks away from president’s beloved New York Trump Tower lies one of America’s greatest museums: the Museum of Modern Art. When visiting MoMA you can expect to see all the greats - Picasso, Van Gogh, Pollock, you name it. However, you may notice something a little different if you decide to visit the museum now.

In light of the executive order, MoMA decided to temporarily retire work by those big names to showcase work by artists from countries that were barred entry into America. Now when wandering around the fifth floor galleries (a floor traditionally dedicated to the narrative of Western Modernism), nestled next to iconic works such as Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy are pieces by artists from Iran, Iraq, and Sudan. These works will remain up for several months and are accompanied with a text that reads: “This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States, according to a presidential executive order issued on January 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum, as they are to the United States.” 

MoMA isn’t exactly tip toeing around the issue. To shove their beliefs in Trump’s face, MoMA has devoted precious real estate to showing the work of primarily muslim artists. Talk about hitting close to home.

Davis Museum

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MoMA is not alone on their mission to boycott the executive order through their curatorial prowess. The less well known Davis Museum located in Wellesley, Massachusetts, has also taken a stand on the travel ban, but in a distinctly different way. In their new exhibition “Art-less,” the museum has either removed or covered up all work in their collection that was created or donated by immigrants. In total, they are taking down 120 works from their collection in order to protest President Trump’s policies. That’s about 20% of the artwork the museum owns!

Museum of the City of New York

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The Museum of the City of New York has decided to jump on the bandwagon and use their curatorial voice to take a stance on travel ban as well. The museum is hosting a photography exhibition entitled “Muslim in New York” to communicate how Muslim life is an integral part of the New York culture. Making up over 3% of the city’s population, the museum wants to demonstrate how the Muslim community has been an essential part of New York landscape since its founding in 1624. That right there, is over two centuries longer than the Trump family has been kicking it in the US of A. Reality check much?

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Many other museums, while not curating shows around this issue, have issued formal statements on their disapproval of the executive order as well. The Getty, the Museum Association, the Association of Museum Directors, and the International Council of Museums’ US Branch have thus far denounced the order, claiming that it will impact the richness of our artistic and social culture.

Some may ask if this sly cultured attack on the president’s policies are some how striking a chord with him. Well, Trump doesn’t seem to have an affinity towards the arts (unless of course it is big, gold, and preferably of him), so he likely isn’t looking at the general smut of the art world. That doesn’t mean that institutions taking a stance on the political climate are all for not. It is estimated that three million people visit MoMA annually alone (in addition to all the other museums taking a stance on this issues). That is a lot of people being presented with the question: What would the American landscape look like without immigrants? You know, that ideology American was built on.

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In the chance that President Trump is one of the people touched by these museums’ message, we can only hope this plan does not backfire and annoy the reactive politico, for it already seems his administration is not a huge supporter of the arts. It has been reported that he wants to cut the funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, which currently receives $148 million annually, a meager .003 percent of the Federal budget. 

Of course, hating on the NEA is nothing new. Conservatives have bashed the NEA for decades. Whether due to their choice to fund Robert Mapplethorpe’s sexually charged photos or Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ, many feel that the funding the NEA hands out to artists and organizations are used to shun people’s religious beliefs and moral values. While people are entitled to that opinion, it is important to realize that the NEA funds many programs that help our culture at large and has a high return on dollars spent. 

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At least we know that our museums aren’t going to go down without a fight.   

By: Jennifer

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Jennifer Tucker

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