Salt Lake City photographer Jamie Clyde had an exhibition recently. Well, sort of. Clyde’s photographs were hanging for a time at Angles Café and Gallery, which took the space at 5th West and 2nd South recently vacated by Mestizo gallery. Midway through the exhibition, however, Clyde’s works were taken down. Multiple visitors to the café were told that the works, photographs that depict Christ-figures, were taken down due to complaints about the works being anti-Christian.
David Erst, owner of Angles, says that though he did have complaints about the works, that is not why they were taken down. He says that because the gallery was building a new wall, the works were taken down to protect them. Clyde could have rehung the works after the remodeling was done, he explains, though only four days remained in the “exhibition.”
Clyde, for her part says she was never told about the complaints. She came in one day to find her works on the ground, near the remodeling. The works, framed in glass, were near the remodeling, unprotected. She was not comfortable with how the gallery was treating – or not treating – her works and so removed them. It was only later that she heard others tell her the works had been taken down because someone complained that they were offensive.
It is one thing when a gallery chooses not to show work because they do not think their audience will appreciate it or it does not fit into the aesthetics of their gallery. But it is a completely different matter to hang works and then to take them down. If remodelling was planned then the artist should have been forewarned, given the opportunity to postpone the exhibition. If the exhibition was taken down due to public commentary, then the gallery has done great harm to the artist. A gallery must know what it is doing. It must carefully choose works beforehand because to take down works may do much more harm than to never hang them at all. To take works down because of – possibly misguided – personal interpretations of the works is to label the works while no longer allowing the public to make up their own minds. It is one thing to never give works a label at all, and something else to give them a false label.
This article appeared in the October 2002 edition of 15 Bytes.
The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.