In an astonishing interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Mary Louise Schumacher on Monday, Milwaukee Art Museum director Dan Keegan suggests that art museums should not lead, should not have principles and that they should not stand with artists who have been imprisoned by authoritarian regimes. Keegan says it is “fair” to wonder whether art museums that protest China’s imprisonment of artists are “arrogant.”
The subject of Keegan and Schumacher’s conversation was China’s imprisonment of Ai Weiwei and other artists at a time when MAM is showing a major exhibition of Chinese art, an exhibition organized with the involvement of a government that imprisons artists. Even as controversy has swirled around his museum’s exhibition and the way MAM has bellied up to China, Keegan remained silent until Monday, at which point he did his best Neville Chamberlain impersonation.
I try not to aggregate other journalists’ work here on MAN so I’m not going to re-write Schumacher’s story, but I recommend that you read what Keegan has to say. I believe that art museum directors should be leaders in their communities, especially when it comes to issues that affect art, artists and our shared cultural heritage. I posit a “fair question”: Does Keegan have the ethical fortitude to be an art museum director?
Related: As a counterpoint to Keegan, read what Philip Bishop wrote in the Guardian yesterday. He thinks art museums should respond to China much more forcefully. He’s right. The way the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and, to a lesser extent, the Milwaukee Art Museum have embarrassed themselves by racing into the arms of China’s artists-silencing, dictatorial regime is an embarrassment to those institutions. However, the overwhelming majority of American art museums have done little to support and spotlight the plight of art and artists in China. (Exceptions: MCASD and the Hirshhorn, which is moving forward with plans to host an Ai Weiwei survey next summer.)