A Critic’s Notebook: Some thoughts on Zuckerman

A Walk in the Valley


The incompetent and short-sighted decision by Kennesaw State University President Daniel Papp to censor artwork for the opening of the new Zuckerman Museum was disheartening beyond words. With a single action, he turned what was to be a hopeful, exciting, celebratory occasion into a dreary reminder that our region seems to be perpetually stunted by philistines and cretins in positions of power.

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Though I’d been looking forward to the museum’s opening for weeks, I was so disgusted I ended up skipping the event. Still, the response by protestors and artists at the opening was lovely, though it’s degrading for anyone to be put in such a position. One can’t just remain silent, I suppose, but to articulate an argument against censorship is to assume that this was ever about persuasion, rather than power.

The institution has offered to reinstate the work: KSU was upfront from the beginning that this was the intent. Either way, this hardly seems like unmitigatedly good news. Reinstating the work at this point implies the harm can be undone. It can’t. The act of censorship has already happened, past tense, and an art space that still exists under the shadow of censorship is worse than no art space at all. You can’t unpoison the chalice. The censored work’s potential reinstatement does not address the underlying problem at the museum, which is structural.

I’ll respect the artist Ruth Stanford’s decision about whether or not to allow the work to be replaced at the Zuckerman whatever she decides, but it certainly seems she should decline. It’s best for all art patrons and artists to focus time and energy on other, better spaces for art in the region until there’s an executive, structural remedy at KSU. Until then, all the works in the museum exist there at the pleasure of powerful non-museum staff, a glaring organizational Achilles’ heel in light of the demonstrated ambivalence of those currently in charge towards art and free speech.