Posted at 9:02 AM on February 11, 2018
Letter to the Portland Press Herald In Response to Daniel Kany’s review of the 2018 Portland Museum of Art Biennial
Original Review by Kany published February 4, 2018 and can be accessed here.
February 7, 2018
To Whom It May Concern:
There are many ways in which privilege presents itself. It can be through the direct ignorance of a person retaining privilege or it can also be through a microaggression. Both forms constitute a level of awareness of the abuser’s actions. However, aware or unaware, abuses of power are in all instances forms of violence against the vulnerable. In our current political climate it is irresponsible for a person with privilege (i.e. a white, heterosexual, cisgender, male-identified, able-bodied person, et cetera) and a major social platform (such as access to the press) to not be conscious of their abusive actions. Dan Kany’s review of the 2018 Portland Museum of Art Biennial is an unfortunately poignant example of this kind of abuse of power.
I would like to specifically discuss Kany’s analysis and critiques of the placement and form of artist Angela Dufrense’s work in the biennial. I am focusing my discussion on this section of Kany’s review for brevity and specificity’s sake. I could write pages refuting his discussion of artist Gina Adam’s incredible work, which Kany characteristically sees as an attack on all white men. I could scream about Kany’s bizarre labeling of artist Daniel Minter’s encapsulating work as only showing “evidence of humanity,” insinuating that to be angry revokes a person’s humanity. I could also direct my efforts to analyzing the overall entitled air to which Kany speaks about art, but I would rather focus my attention on specifically offensive and off-putting remarks that so disappointingly ended up in the final published piece.
The following examples show immense amounts of ignorance in his wording, inconsistencies in critical dialogue, and air of frivolity when discussing this impactful and challenging work. Kany frames an incredibly diverse show, the first in the PMA’s history to my knowledge, as a curatorially-misguided exhibition while attempting to blanket his assertions under the guise of routine criticism. What Kany wants is a show that is political, but soft, with aesthetically beautiful work that is not too outspoken. In reality, instead of celebrating the diversity of the show, Kany’s response furthers the gap between the inclusive Contemporary Art scene that the community members that I am familiar with are striving and long for. Kany’s dialogue is a conversation that he wants to control, one that protects a historically white and misogynistic Maine art scene that our community has been trying to grow beyond.
Kany’s discussion of Angela Dufrense’s work is casually homophobic, racist, and inappropriately fetishistic. Kany asserts that Dufrense’s work is predictably queer, yet he seems to praise this not for its political or aesthetic value, but that Dufrense’s “exciting” paintings of “lesbians and satyrs pissing on each other” would have been more interesting for the show. This is incredibly hurtful, as a queer painter myself, considering Dufrense’s incredible work that is in the show. As a critic and writer I also understand that critics often rely on their subjective interpretation of a show to guide their reviews, however this is not acceptable when a writer's opinions or views are harmful to the artists or irrelevant to the content of the work. Kany’s reaction to Dufrense’s work is an extremely problematic fetishization of Dufrense’s queerness and has no place being published in a platform such as the Press Herald, or anywhere for that matter. Kany’s inferences into the subjects of Dufrense’s paintings are equally disturbing. Kany singles out Dufrense’s subjects that happen to be of color, making bizarre statements like in his description of Dufrense’s piece The Twork: Tworkwase Dyson: “a strong black woman encounters the viewer in a traditional full-body portrait, only it’s green.” I don’t know why Kany feels so strongly about the color of the ground in this incredible painting, but it is statements like these that deter from the actuality of the work and give no insightful feedback for his readers. Instead, Kany leaves the viewers less engaged with the skill it took to make the piece and more concerned why Dufrense is painting black people if she is “patently” gay. For someone who criticised the curators for focusing too heavily on identity politics, Kany sure is obsessed with minority identities: but only if he’s forced to be aware of them.
Finally, I cannot help but address Kany’s comments following his discussion of Gina Adam’s work. Immediately following his formal discussion of the work Kany springs into an inappropriately aggressive discussion about the pieces being an attack on white men. This is possibly the most nauseating and infuriating part of Kany’s commentary and wrongfully undermines the work, even dismisses its relevance to the show. Kany begs the artists and curators to consider who their audience is, but what Kany does not realize is that the Biennial’s audience might not be just white men for once. For the first time since I have lived in Portland I have seen my identity represented in shows at the PMA (this show, the Nan Goldin show), and I can imagine that it is just as refreshing for other minorities who are feeling similarly about their own representation. Kany asks “isn’t it better to have us as allies?” in reference to white men, but I respond with the statement that I am unconcerned with the plight of the white man. I take offense to questions like “what if the only abolitionists were black?” and “what if no men supported women’s suffrage?” because the systems of oppression that the abolitionists, suffragists, and other civil rights activists were fighting against were created by white men, to benefit white men. Any prioritization or reminder of white men involved with struggles of liberation and undermines countless minority struggles, and once again aligns the focus on white men, akin to Kany’s efforts.
I would like to conclude by demanding an apology from Daniel Kany and the Press Herald, as well as the publication of any and all letters in protest of Kany’s review, preferably linked to Kany’s original article. If my, or any others requests are ignored, I will assume that the Portland Press Herald’s ideology is in line with Kany’s ignorant, misogynist and racist review and will proceed accordingly. Portland is growing, finally, towards being an inclusive, educated community, and we have no room for this kind of coercive criticism any longer.