Smackdown 101

Quillette just published my article about Ben Sakoguchi’s spectacular smackdown of literalist curators.

Sakoguchi was invited to participate in the revived California Biennial, to be held at the Orange County Museum of Art, which was reopening with great fanfare in a brand new $94 million Morphosis-designed building. The curators had selected a his 16-panel polyptych titled Comparative Religions 101, but But with all the paperwork completed and the artwork ready to ship, Sakoguchi was informed that OCMA’s Education Department had “raised questions about the content of his submission.” The painting contained images of swastikas. Sakoguchi was handed a list of 17 questions the museum wanted him to answer.  Three days after submitting his written responses, Sakoguchi was informed that Comparative Religions 101 would not be included in the show “because the museum will not show any work that depicts a swastika.” Having accused an 85-year-old survivor of a Japanese internment camp of hate speech, the curators’ ensuing scramble to save face was tragicomic.

Matt Stromberg’s comprehensive account of the exchanges between the Biennial curators, museum staff, the artist’s studio and his dealers reconstructs the drama that played out between the September 12th rejection and the opening of the Biennial two weeks later. Stromberg recounts the predictable shifting of blame between museum administrators and exhibition curators, the bid to secure a different work by Sakoguchi (declined), the attempts to go behind his back to obtain work from his dealers (unsuccessful), and finally a groveling email imploring the artist to re-enter the offending painting into the exhibition (denied). The California Biennial debacle was a face-off between pedants and poets, and this time the poet won.

To read full article click on the image above.