Seattle University is rehanging Chuck Close’s “Self-Portrait 2000,” which was removed from the Lemieux Library in December, shortly after last year’s sexual harassment allegations. Father Thomas Lucas, Curator and Professor of Art History at Seattle University, confirmed via email yesterday that the controversial work will be rehung during the upcoming Fall quarter. The university intends to hold discussions regarding the rehanging with “select key campus stakeholders” (I assume these discussions will take place prior to the work’s reinstatement, but it seems the decision has already been made). Back in January, when I wrote about the initial removal of the piece, I had every expectation that this day would come as prestige and value will generally overcome actions of this sort meant to project a perception of moral obligation.
Furthermore, in the statement which was published alongside the piece about the removal of the work, it was made quite clear that the taking down of the Close was due to concern regarding perception from prospective students and fear of a public relations backlash. Unfortunately for the university, the general consensus from the art community is that, not only are most celebrated male artists misogynistic and sexually problematic, but by removing a work which can promote greater discussion surrounding these issues, we are occluding these important conversations.
Shortly after the publication of the article, Seattle University’s own student newspaper, The Spectator, took up the story and called out the university administration for not consulting the art and art history professors, or SU arts community, on how to properly handle the allegations against Close. In these cases, discussion rather than censorship should be prioritized and so, where I do support the rehanging of the Chuck Close, I continue to question the underlying motivation of the administration.
As a staunch opponent of censorship, I took issue with the initial removal and find the rehanging to be a validation of the universities original intentions–public relations overshadowing discourse. Had Seattle University chosen to sell or donate the work, or burn it in a back alley, I would have the utmost respect for at least taking a hard-toothed stance, but after the fire-storm surrounding Close was put out, the memories of the general community fogged, and the fear of negative press alleviated, it is no great surprise this valuable work pops back up to represent the cultural and financial success of Seattle University. I anxiously await the formal public statement after the “select key campus stake holder” discussion.