A hollow, corporate Black Lives Matter post on SFMOMA’s Instagram drew a critical comment from an ex-employee, setting off a month of escalating drama and critiques of the museum’s mostly white executive culture.

The SFMOMA has been closed for nearly four months because of stay-at-home orders, yet has still managed to spend the entire last month in an intensifying race scandal. A Black former employee who’d quietly resigned over racism in the workplace made a snarky comment on one of the museum's Instagram posts, which SFMOMA deleted, setting off online drama, terrible publicity, and boycott calls. Now the Chronicle reports that SFMOMA deputy director of external relations Nan Keeton has resigned over the firestorm, which may not quell the anger and there may be more executive resignations to come.

View this post on Instagram

“Why do we need to raise our hands in that symbolic space again and again and again to be present in this country?” —Glenn Ligon. . 06.01.2020 UPDATE We can do better. This post should have more directly expressed our sadness and outrage as an institution at the ongoing trauma and violence that continues to disproportionately affect Black lives. . We apologize. We recognize that African American people and communities of color are especially impacted and suffering right now. We mourn the loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and the many other victims of racism and police brutality. . We have a responsibility to use our position to impact change, starting from within. We know we have work to do in the future to have this statement be more than words. We are an institution dedicated to art and cultural expression and we strive to be a place of community and dialogue for all. We are committed to the vital role of art and artists in our world. . We affirm that #BlackLivesMatter. We are committed to doing better. We are committed to hearing your feedback. We are listening. . We hear you. But ask that you follow Instagram’s Community Guidelines (http://sfmoma.me/IGguidelines). We do not and will not remove or disable comments unless they violate those specific parameters, including comments directed at private individuals. . [#GlennLigon, “We're Black and Strong (I)”, 1996, #SFMOMAcollection, © Glenn Ligon]

A post shared by SFMOMA (@sfmoma) on

The tension began with the kind of safe, milquetoast Black Lives Matter post that many corporate entities put up in the early days of the George Floyd demonstrations. The museum’s May 30 post, seen above, using a quote and artwork by Black artist Glenn Ligon, drew a critical remark from the former employee, which SFMOMA deleted and then disabled all comments on the post, and clearly caught hell for the decision. The post now contains the update, “We can do better. This post should have more directly expressed our sadness and outrage as an institution at the ongoing trauma and violence that continues to disproportionately affect Black lives.”

Comments are now enabled on it again, drawing remarks like “#boycottsfmoma” and “Y’all sloppy and ya ass is showing. You’ll probably delete it, or make an underpaid social media intern do it. Cheaply posting a quote and touting a black artists work in response to this is lazy as fuck.”

So what was this original comment? Check it out above, as the SFMOMA Union has screenshotted it. Hyperallergic tracked down and interviewed the post’s author Taylor Brandon, a former SFMOMA marketing associate whom KQED adds quit after feeling there was racism in that workplace. “This is a cop-out,” Brandon wrote in her Instagram comment. “Using black artist/art to make a statement that needs to come from the institution. You don’t only get to amplify black artists during a surge of black mourning and pain. Having black people on your homepage/feed is not enough.”

Hyperallergic also spoke to an anonymous employee who’s still at SFMOMA. “Ever since I started working at SFMOMA, I have watched leadership tokenize their non-white employees all while trying to silence them by implying that their concerns, frustrations, and experiences are not real,” that person said. “The events that transpired regarding the Instagram post highlights leadership’s inability to recognize the racism within museums amongst employees and donors.”

View this post on Instagram

A Statement From Heavy Breathing: Heavy Breathing and featured artists Leila Weefur and Elena Gross share their work with SFMOMA this week in the spirit of principled disagreement. They reject SFMOMA’s decision to censor community critique of the museum’s social media response to protests responding to the police murders of #GeorgeFloyd, #BreonnaTaylor, #RegisKorchinskiPaquet, #TonyMcDade and #AhmaudArbery. SFMOMA’s apology fails to acknowledge that their act of censorship, in deleting and disabling comments on their May 30th post, is a silencing act that is complicit with and enables systemized violence against Black individuals. Heavy Breathing, Weefur and Gross support criticism of the museum’s initial media response to the protests. SFMOMA leveraged the words and work of black artist Glenn Ligon, rather than offering a direct statement condemning violence against Black communities. SFMOMA’s Community in Residence program is an opportunity to amplify dialogue with artists and the public, and this week’s work is presented towards that goal. Heavy Breathing is a series of free public movement workshops designed by artists combining physical activity with group discussion on ideas related to their creative practices. Co-produced by artists Lisa Rybovich Crallé and Sophia Wang, Heavy Breathing has presented more than 50 workshops since launching in 2015. For more info: www.heavyheavybreathing.com. . image courtesy @spikeleila

A post shared by SFMOMA (@sfmoma) on

Nan Keeton had vociferously defended deleting the comment as criticism mounted, and now KQED reports that she and SFMOMA “have mutually decided to part ways.” But Keeton’s exit may not end this affair, as the Chronicle notes that some Black artists have asked for their work to be removed from the #MuseumFromHome program, and they are screenshot-ing their communications with SFMOMA director Neal Benezra. Some of these are less than flattering.

View this post on Instagram

After Taylor’s June 12th email to Neal (then the THIRD time) requesting an agenda, a wheatpasting project appeared on the boarded up doors of SFMOMA over the weekend of June 13th - June 14th . . Many people assumed it was a rogue projected done by us but it was not and was rather a project commissioned by the museum . . After 3 days of additional silence on Neal’s part, he reached back out to us and stated that (for whatever reason) WE were not willing to have a “productive dialogue” and were “unwilling to meet unless our demands were met” . . We’re unsure where this thought came from. On the contrary, we’ve only been asking for an AGENDA in order to have a PRODUCTIVE conversation with @sfmoma . . ADDITIONALLY, Neal stated that the museum would not remit any payments to us — although verbally consenting to receiving an invoice on the June 3rd call . . It also goes without saying that none of the current strategies the museum is gearing up to implement would have happened without OUR INITAL CALL OUT and LABOR and CONSULTATION....we think Neal knows that 👏🏿👏🏾👏🏽

A post shared by No Neutral Alliance (@noneutralalliance) on

“We were disheartened by your refusal to meet unless we met your demands,” Benezra apparently wrote to the No Neutral Alliance artist collective (You have to click on the above post and through a few slides to see it.) “We wish to have a productive dialogue but your communications and demands to date do not convey a willingness to do the same.”

That’s not good damage control, so Benezra may too end up a casualty of this controversy. That would not get much sympathy from the SFMOMA staff, though, as Art Forum reports that SFMOMA laid off 55 more workers last month, in addition to the 135 workers they let go in March.  

Related: SFMOMA’s ‘An American Project' Showcases the Work Of Photographer Dawoud Bey [SFist]

Image: Beyond My Ken via Wikimedia Commons