Mar 26, 2017

Dana Schutz's Controversial Painting 'Open Casket' Has Split the Art World

Social Media has erupted and the art world is split over Dana Schutz controversial painting entitled Open Casket
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An intense debate has opened up on social media over Dana Schutz’s highly controversial painting at the Whitney Biennial. The painting entitled Open Casket depicts the body of Emmett Till lying in his coffin. Emmett was an African-American teenager who was lynched in Mississippi in 1995 at the age of 14 after being falsely accused of flirting with a white woman.

Since the opening, the painting has not only generated a hugely emotional debate on social media, but has also triggered protests. Artist Parker Bright spent several days this week standing in front of the painting, arguing that ‘Schutz doesn’t have the privilege to speak for the black people as a whole or for Emmett Till’s family.’

“No one should be making money off a black dead body.” he said and demanded that the curators remove the painting from the biennial exhibition.

Hannah Black, a Berlin-based British artist followed Bright’s protest by sending the organisers a letter requesting that they destroy the painting.

Responding to the criticism, Schutz said that she made the painting after a ‘summer that felt like a state of emergency.’ "There were constant mass shootings, racist rallies filled with hate speech, and an escalating number of camera-phone videos of innocent black men being shot by police.”

In an interview in the Times, she said that she approached the painting as a mother and as a way to explore a mother’s pain.

“It was the feeling of understanding and sharing the pain, the horror. I could never, ever know her experience, but I know what it is to love your child.”

On Thursday last week, a fake letter, supposedly from Dana Schutz and calling for the painting to be removed, was widely published and shared on social media before it was later confirmed to be false.

Not all of the response however has been criticism, and a number of artists have come out in defence of Schutz’s right to tackle difficult subjects as an artist.

The Biennal’s curators, Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks also defended the painting’s presence in the museum. “By exhibiting the painting we wanted to acknowledge the importance of this extremely consequential and solemn image in American and African-American history and the history of race relations in this country.”

For her part, Schutz has stated that she understands the reaction to the painting:

"The anger surrounding this painting is real and I understand that. It’s a problematic painting and I knew that getting into it. I do think that it is better to try to engage something extremely uncomfortable, maybe impossible, and fail, than to not respond at all.”