Tomorrow night the Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art will open its doors with a Grand Opening celebration. The featured exhibit, See Through Walls, was planning on featuring work by 14 local and national artists that explored concepts of space and location. That number has dropped to 13 now that the work of Ruth Stanford has been removed.
Stanford, Atlanta artist and associate professor of sculpture at Georgia State University, was notified around 11:30 yesterday morning by ZMA curator Teresa Reeves that Kennesaw State University President Daniel S. Papp had issued a directive that her work be removed from the exhibit. The work in question, "A Walk In the Valley," deals with a piece of property acquired by the university in 2008, the homestead of controversial southern writer Corra Mae Harris.
In an 1899 article published in The Independent, Harris defended the practice of lynching. The story launched her writing career. Her 56-acre home north of Cartersville, nicknamed In the Valley, was gifted to Kennesaw State University by business leader Jodie Hill in 2008. When Harris's article was discovered the next year, a group of Kennesaw faculty members led by Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Richard Vengroff pushed for the university to return the property.
During the planning for the grand opening exhibit, ZMA curators Teresa Reeves and Kirstie Tepper approached Stanford and asked her to create a piece for the show responding to the property, as Stanford's work is often historically based and site-specific. She did extensive research on both Harris and the property before beginning work on a faux museum exhibit.
"It's a very complicated story," Stanford says. "I was struck by the extremes that I could see in her work, from things that are really genuinely ugly like that 1899 letter, and then other things that she wrote that are just really beautiful and poetic, so my interest as an artist is just taking a look at those complexities." In keeping with the architectural theme of the opening, Stanford's piece looked at Harris's connection to the land to explore "how we respond to places and histories and things to come before us and things that may or may not be left behind."
To Stanford's knowledge, President Papp objected to the work's reference to Harris and the In the Valley property. Stanford still plans to attend the museum's grand opening tomorrow in support of the museum and other featured artists.
Creative Loafing has reached out to the Zuckerman Museum for comment, and has been directed to Tammy DeMel, spokeswoman for Kennesaw State University, who is currently unavailable for comment. The office of President Papp has not yet responded for a request for comment. We will update this post if and when we receive a response.
UPDATE: KSU Director of Strategic Communications Tammy DeMel has forwarded the following statement:
The opening of the Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art (ZMA) at Kennesaw State University is an exciting event for the University and the State of Georgia. As such, it is appropriate that the exhibits on display at the opening of the museum celebrate the sculptures of Ruth Zuckerman, the permanent holdings of KSU's own art collection, and site-specific works.
Yesterday, during a preview tour of the ZMA, concerns were raised that the subject matter of one exhibit, Ruth Stanford's piece "A Walk in the Valley," did not align with the celebratory atmosphere of the Museum's opening. We therefore made the difficult decision to remove the exhibit for display at a more appropriate later time.
UPDATE: Stanford has passed along some images of the work being installed at the Zuckerman Museum, as well as a rough draft of the statement for the work and a few details.
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