New York Museum Cancels Terror Exhibition After Controversy

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A controversial art exhibition that includes disturbing images of Iraq bombings and Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison is looking for a new home after it was yanked from a major New York City art museum over concerns that it glorified terror.

“The Dialectics of Terror” — formerly called “The Aesthetics of Terror” — was scheduled to open at the Chelsea Art Museum in November. On Friday, however, the museum issued a press release saying the show would not go on and that its curator had quit for “personal reasons.”

Josh Azzarella’s “Untitled #23 (Lynndied)” displays a well-known photograph of former Army reservist Lynndie England, who was convicted of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. But Azzarella's work alters the image. In the original photograph, England points at the genitals of naked prisoners with one hand while giving a thumbs-up with the other, a cigarette hanging from her mouth.

Azzarella’s work removes the prisoners, leaving England posing and pointing in front of an empty wall.

Another work in the exhibit is Romanian artist Cristi Pogacean’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio.” Named for Mozart's opera by the same name, it is an oriental rug with images from Al Jazeera Television of four Romanian journalists captured in Baghdad.

Curator Manon Slome canceled the exhibition and resigned her position after disagreeing with Dorothea Keeser, the museum’s founder and president, over what was and was not art, Slome told The two had jointly approved the exhibition catalog proof, according to the museum's press release.

“There were some irreconcilable differences of opinion," said Slome. "I really didn’t want this level of controversy. I would like this level of attention to the show and not for what happened to it."

Without going into detail, she said the museum was concerned that focusing on terrorism would glorify it.

Slome is now shopping for a place to carry the exhibition.

“I tremendously care about this show and I would love to find a museum that will take it on,” she said.

Coco Fusco, a video artist whose work was to be included, said she didn’t support the cancellation, but it may work out in the show’s favor.

“Some of the most famous artworks of the past 40 years have been censored in some way — and quite often the artists who made them end up having brilliant careers as a result of the institutional repression,” Fusco wrote in an e-mail.

Keeser did not return a phone call on Monday, but she spoke to art blogger Paddy Johnson about the disagreement between the museum and Slome.

“I said there were several exhibition parts which glorified terrorism and which disrespected the human beings," Keeser told Johnson. "Absolutely. I am absolutely able stand up for that because that is my opinion. I do not think that an artist should show children and women [who] are torn apart by bombs.”

She didn't comment on which artists’ works she disliked, but did criticize certain pieces in more general terms.

"An artist has to go one step beyond, and find what are the reasons for terrorism and how one can go ... another way [to] a revolution against terrorism, and not just show very banal photos which we see every day in ... television," Keeser said in the interview. "That’s not art."

The museum’s statement said that Slome made the decision to cancel the exhibition on her own without discussing it with Keeser or other museum personnel.

“There isn’t a single work which focuses on dead bodies. It’s not about gore," Slome said. "It truly is not a sensational show. I think there was some fear that it did do that and dishonored victims of terrorism, and it did not."

She added: “I’m not out to smash them.”

Click here for more artwork from Josh Azzarella.

Click here for more artwork from Cristi Pogacean.