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.
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.”
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.
“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.
Image: Beyond My Ken via Wikimedia Commons