MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is apologizing to an artist and standing by its staff Wednesday in an incident that occurred in June when a Madison artist’s work was vandalized during an exhibit.
Artwork contributed to the museum by Lilada Gee in the Wisconsin Triennial presentation of “Ain’t IA Woman?” highlighted black women artists in Wisconsin. Surveillance video from the museum, which Gee and MMoCA officials said they would not release publicly, showed museum guests holding the pieces that make up the work. Another video from the museum’s lobby shows the guests, who officials have identified as a mother and her children, leaving the building with the artwork in hand.
On Wednesday, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees at MMOCA said in a statement that the situation was “unacceptable and we know the situation has caused pain.”
“We are very sorry for this. Lilada is a talented artist and an invaluable voice for black women and girls. We were proud to have her and her artwork as part of the exhibit,” Bordi said.
At the time, Gee said he heard about the incident through a phone call from the principal.
“I didn’t get it,” Gee recalled. “I said, ‘Excuse me, you’re telling me someone came and vandalized my exhibit, and you’re calling to ask if they can take home the canvases they vandalized?'”
The statement from the committee said it fully supported Executive Director Christina Brungardt and her staff, saying it believed the actions she took to address the incident were necessary.
“We believe that the actions taken by the Executive Director to address the incident, including actively resisting efforts by local uniformed law enforcement officers to forcibly remove the artwork and/or detain the mother who misappropriated the artwork art, were a necessary and suitable tool. to de-escalate a tense situation involving young children. Moreover, at no time during the incident did the Director intend to allow the mother to retain possession of the artwork; Rather, each of the director’s actions was intended to safely and methodically negotiate the fair return of the work to the museum and the artist,” the group said.
The group also described the 16-minute window in which the gallery was not secured as “an anomaly, not a rule”.
By now, many of you have heard or read about the unfortunate incident that occurred on June 24, 2022 during the Wisconsin Triennial presentation of Ain’t IA Woman?. The damage to Lilada Gee’s artwork inside the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) is unacceptable and we know the situation has caused her pain. We are very sorry for that. Lilada is a talented artist and an invaluable voice for black women and girls. We were proud to have her and her artwork as part of the exhibition.
Since the incident there have been a number of articles, e-mails and letters criticizing the MMOCA administration and Board of Trustees and making inappropriate and baseless accusations of institutional racism for handling this unique situation. We do not take these accusations lightly—MMoCA, like all museums, is grappling with historical institutional racism. The Board of Trustees, on behalf of the entire organization, would like to reaffirm MMOCA’s commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all and address these damaging allegations.
First of all, we begin by clearly expressing our full support to Executive Director Christina Brungardt and her entire staff. This is a team of dedicated individuals who are dedicated and have a proven track record of respecting all the artists who exhibit at the museum and the artwork they entrust to us. We believe that the actions taken by the Executive Director to address the incident, including actively resisting efforts by local uniformed law enforcement officers to forcefully retrieve the artwork and/or detain the mother who misappropriated the artwork , were a necessary and suitable tool for him. de-escalating a tense situation involving young children. Moreover, at no time during the incident did the Director intend to allow the mother to retain possession of the artwork; rather, each of the director’s actions was intended to safely and methodically negotiate the fair return of the work to the museum and the artist. We stand by Ms. Brungardt and we are grateful for her leadership, professionalism and vision for growing MMoCA as an influential, globally recognized institution that prioritizes equity and inclusion.
Allegations have also been made that the museum was ill-equipped to host the exhibition and that “broken promises” had been made. This unfortunate narrative belies the months of collaboration, communication and relationship building between the artists, guest curator, museum administration and museum staff to develop and bring to life the vision for Ain’t IA Woman? exhibition. Ignoring the many conversations that took place to ensure the success of the exhibition along with the flexibility of museum staff in addressing special requests and changing needs undermines the communication and trust that was built as part of this process. We have the utmost respect for the artists and everyone involved in making this exhibition possible. We are deeply saddened that some artists have chosen to remove their work before the end of October. We also remain steadfast in our commitment to encouraging artists to express their independent views through their art, including choosing not to display their art, even when doing so causes controversy or confusion.
Regarding exhibit security, the artwork in the Wisconsin Triennial was held to the same standards of care as other exhibits at the museum. The brief absence in security was an anomaly, not the rule. The 16-minute period during which employed gallery attendants were not in part of the exhibition space does not amount to disrespect for black artists or the exhibition’s guest curator, nor does it indicate institutional racism. The leadership and staff worked closely with the guest curator and featured artists to create an environment that fulfilled our mission to provide transformative experiences that educate, reflect and inspire us as individuals and communities. An unfortunate incident should not dismantle all the positive work achieved through this invaluable exhibition, and it certainly should not be a reason for individuals to impugn the reputation of the MPCA or its staff.
Out of respect for those involved and for the important mission that we pursue every day – and that this exhibition represents – we have not intervened in the public narrative that has been ignited by this incident before. We recognize that this lack of public comment could be seen as disrespect, or could be misinterpreted as signaling agreement with the allegations made against museum staff and directors. However, it was our sincere intention to work privately, out of public view, with those directly affected to resolve the issue and ensure that Ain’t IA Woman? achieved the positive impact originally envisioned by the guest curator and artists. We are the first to admit that this approach did not yield the cooperation we had hoped for.
MMoCA will continue to provide a forum for people to be challenged, reflect and make connections between art and the world around them. We support the staff, artists and others who helped bring the Wisconsin Triennial to life. And we remain ready, willing and able to engage in the difficult exchanges that will help us create more social justice in our community and our world and better ways to elevate the arts as a means of achieving these results.
Executive Committee, Board of Trustees
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Director of Communications
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
227 State Street, Madison, WI 53703
o 608.257.0158 x241
Copyright 2022 WMTV. All rights reserved.