In the wake of allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior by the artist Chuck Close, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has decided to continue its retrospective of Close’s photography and mount an additional exhibit exploring issues of gender and power in an accompanying gallery.
PAFA museum director Brooke Davis Anderson said Wednesday the purpose of the as-yet evolving new exhibit would be to “encourage dialogue” among museum visitors, personnel, and the PAFA student body.
There will also be public programming accompanying the exhibit, which will seek to broaden conversation about art-world gender inequities, she said.
“We’re framing the dialogue around the display of about eight to 12 artworks,” she said. “It will ask questions like: Who has been in power? Who has led the conversation? Who would you like to see leading the conversation …. How can those conversations be structured to empower everyone?”
The National Gallery of Art announced last week that it had canceled a Close show scheduled to open in May.
“Every museum doesn’t have to act in the same way,” Anderson said, adding that PAFA’s goal was to create a “thoughtful and provocative … response to the allegations.”
The new PAFA exhibit — and attendant programming — will go on view Feb. 9 and will run through April 8, when the Close exhibition is also scheduled to end. The Close retrospective went on view Oct. 6. Allegations against the artist surfaced in December.
PAFA officials met the day after the allegations were reported, a few days before Christmas, Anderson said. There was broad agreement that the museum should address the allegations in a “museum way,” employing the permanent collection in some fashion.
There was some discussion of removing the Close show, but officials believed an opportunity to address gender issues in the workplace and in the broader society would be better served by keeping the exhibition up and instead using it to create very pointed conversations.
On Jan. 17, PAFA convened a forum of students, personnel, and artists.
“That forum led to … the decision to keep the show up and to continue the conversation,” Anderson said.
The new exhibit, which will be mounted in a gallery adjacent to the Close show in the Hamilton Building, will most likely include some works from PAFA’s Linda Lee Alter collection of art by women, Anderson said.
In recent years, PAFA has made a concerted effort to acquire works by women. In that context, the Close controversy has particular resonance.
“One of the reasons I came to PAFA was the emphasis on women and women of color,” said Anderson, adding that the Close controversy highlights a “transformational moment” that PAFA will address in what she believes is an authentic way.